Time to replace France with EU in Karabakh Minsk Group: Op-ed

Time to replace France with EU in Karabakh Minsk Group: Op-ed

Taras Kuzio
Time to replace France with EU in Karabakh Minsk Group: Op-ed

France has difficulty formulating a foreign policy strategy towards conflicts and has supported separatism and the territorial integrity of states. This has led to France losing its ability to portray itself as an honest broker in conflicts.

France and Turkey are both members of NATO and yet Paris has never shown solidarity towards Ankara over separatism. Yet you would think France would understand the threat from separatism and therefore understand Turkey’s sensitivity towards the PKK’s decades-long terrorism. After all, the Front for the Liberation of Corsica (FLNC) fought in 1976-2014 against the French state using the same terrorist methods as the PKK.

France has, like Greece and Armenia, given diplomatic support to the PKK’s justification for its terrorist campaign against Turkey. While never going as far as Armenia in providing sanctuary and military support to the PKK, France has never upheld the principle of the territorial integrity of Turkey.

There are two sources for France’s multi-vector approach to separatism and territorial integrity.

The first is France’s traditional anti-Americanism which led it to withdraw in 1963-1966 from the military arm of NATO. President Emmanuel Macron’s recent statement that NATO is “brain-dead” continues this anti-Americanism.

France’s traditional anti-Americanism has always led to support for pro-Russian attitudes. Three of the four leading presidential candidates in the 2017 French elections were staunchly pro-Russian. Macron has led the way in seeking to improve relations with Russia irrespective of its continued illegal occupation of Crimea.

The second is that France has the largest Armenian diaspora in Europe and the third largest in the world after the U.S. and Russia. While all French presidents pandered to their Armenian minority, Macron has been openly biased in favor of Armenia in the Karabakh conflict. On Aug. 3, Macron tweeted “Armenians are confronting countless calamities. With all solidarity and a friendly feeling, I say France will always be by your side.”

While supporting Armenia and the right to “self-determination” for Karabakh (that is, separatism), France is at the same time a member of the Normandy Format where it ostensibly supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine. It is unclear how France can support contradictory positions of separatism in Azerbaijan and territorial integrity in Ukraine?!

It is not surprising that Azerbaijan became frustrated with the French, and to a lesser extent the U.S., bias towards Armenia in the OSCE Minsk Group on Karabakh and their inactivity and passiveness in the face of Armenia’s unwillingness to abide with what it had signed. In November-December of last year, both houses of the French parliament voted to recognize the “independence” of the so-called “Republic of Artsakh” (the Armenian separatist’s name for Karabakh).

Following Azerbaijan’s liberation of its sovereign territory in the 2020 Second Karabakh War the Minsk Group in the format it had existed until then became defunct. Baku will not agree to France’s continued membership and the Minsk Group therefore needs to be+ reconstituted by replacing France with the EU. During a July visit to the South Caucasus, European Council President Charles Michel raised the question of the EU becoming more active in the Karabakh as an “honest broker.”

For progress to happen, France should concede its seat in the Minsk Group to the EU. This is something France has always been reluctant to do believing as a great power it should be involved in all high-level negotiations alongside other powers.

The EU should uphold the principle of the territorial integrity of states in the Karabakh conflict, which it never did in 1992-2020, but has always done in Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine. Azerbaijan would welcome the EU’s engagement if it recognized “the territorial integrity of regional countries, inviolability of internationally recognized borders and the condemnation of any attempts to put those borders under question.”

The basis for treating Azerbaijan in the same manner as other conflict zones in the former Soviet space is based on three principles.

The first is in 1992, Soviet internal boundaries between the 15 republics became international borders. Johannes Socher describes this as the “principle of uti possidets” in her new book entitled Russia and the Right to Self-Determination in the Post-Soviet Space published by Oxford University Press.

In 1992, although the U.N. recognized the “principle of uti possidets” it could not be implemented in practice because of Armenia’s occupation of 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s territory. With the liberation of these territories last year, the EU should assist in applying the “principle of uti possidets,” long recognized by the U.N. to the Armenian-Azerbaijani border by encouraging Yerevan to finally become serious about negotiating the demarcation and delimitation of the border.

The second is Russia and Armenia, together with other Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) members, signed numerous documents recognizing the “principle of uti possidets.” In 1994, for example, Russia, Armenia, and other CIS members signed the “Declaration on the Respect for Sovereignty, Territorial Integrity, and Inviolability of Borders.”

The third is the Soviet Union’s and Soviet republican constitutions permitted “self-determination” for republics but never for autonomous entities, such as Karabakh. Depicting Karabakh’s right to “self-determination” in the same manner as Russia’s justification for the “self-determination” of Crimea would lead to Armenia’s international isolation. Since 2014, while Turkey and Azerbaijan have always supported U.N. resolutions condemning the annexation of Crimea, Armenia has always voted against them.

A post-conflict peace treaty is urgently needed in the South Caucasus. For this to happen there is a need for the EU to replace France in the Minsk Group and Armenia to recognise its Soviet internal boundary, with Azerbaijan as its internal border under the “principle of uti possidets.”

*Taras Kuzio is a professor in political science at the National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy.