by Garik Harutyunyan
Following the recent attack on Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijan, the European Union allocated 12 million euros for the humanitarian needs of refugees. In contrast, the EU provided 67 billion dollars in aid to Kyiv in the first year after Russia launched a full-scale attack on Ukraine.
In the case of Nagorno-Karabakh, the assistance was exclusively humanitarian, whereas for Ukraine, it encompassed not only humanitarian aid but also economic and military support. The difference is incomparable both in terms of scale and scope.
Germany’s status as the EU’s largest economy, grants it a significant role in this support, enabling substantial influence over pan-European decisions. Yet, Germany lacks a clear idea about possible solutions to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. It began actively mediating in Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations only following the 2020 war.
Mikheil Sarjveladze, a Postdoc researcher at the University of Jena (Germany), highlights Germany’s limited attention to the South Caucasus region in security policies in recent years, citing several reasons. Firstly, despite its recognition as both a source and transit route for energy resources, the region was not deemed as particularly important.
Secondly, Germany avoided an active engagement in conflict settlement, viewing the Nagorno-Karabakh issue as frozen, although in reality it was not. And thirdly, the EU’s lack of involvement as a geopolitical player in the South Caucasus influenced Germany’s reticence. For its part, Germany refrained from taking the lead within the EU in advocating for a heightened EU involvement in the South Caucasus, particularly concerning security policy.
“I am currently skeptical about German foreign policy because there is a lack of German and European strategies for stability in the region [South Caucasus]. There is a will for the South Caucasus to play a greater role from a German perspective. But there is a lack of a strategic vision as to what role the EU should play in the region and, conversely, what role the South Caucasus should play for the EU,” says Sarjveladze.
Google Trends data also reveals that Germans display heightened interested in this topic mainly when there is a new phase of escalation in the conflict. Notably, interest peaked on September 19-20, following Azerbaijan’s attack on Nagorno-Karabakh, which resulted in the forced displacement of the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh.
During another expression of concern, the European Parliament adopted a resolution with strongly-worded language, alluding to the war crimes committed by Azerbaijan. The text emphatically cautioned that sanctions should be imposed on Azerbaijan, particularly in the event of attacks by Azerbaijan on Armenia.
“The European Parliament։
- Calls for the EU and its Member States to adopt targeted sanctions against the individuals in the Azerbaijani Government… (4)
- …Warns Azerbaijan against any potential military adventurism against Armenia proper… (10)
- Calls for a comprehensive review of the EU’s relations with Azerbaijan… (11)
- Calls for the EU’s dependency on gas exports from Azerbaijan to be reduced; … urges the Commission to investigate suspicions that Azerbaijan actually exports Russian gas to the EU; calls for the suspension of all imports of oil and gas from Azerbaijan to the EU in the event of military aggression against Armenian territorial integrity or significant hybrid attacks against Armenia’s constitutional order and democratic institutions (12)”․
However, these were assertions made in the parliamentary resolution, a document typically disregarded by European executive bodies, as highlighted in the resolution itself. Realpolitik practitioners tend to adopt a more pragmatic stance, particularly concerning Azerbaijani (often Russian) gas. With the reduced availability of Russian gas, Europe is now willing to purchase gas from other autocratic regimes.
In closed discussions, official circles in Germany acknowledge that Europe is dependent on Azerbaijan’s gas. Despite their clear understanding of the situation and their expressed approach, they find it challenging to discontinue trade with Azerbaijan. Reference to the fundamental values shaping Germany’s foreign policy, in its turn, usually reveals inclinations toward a more forceful response in the event of an attack on Armenia. And inquiries about the attacks and occupation of Armenian territories in Jermuk and other directions in September 2022 are often met with no substantial response.
Nadja Douglas, a researcher at the Centre for East European and international Studies (ZOiS, Germany), understands the concerns arising in Armenian society regarding why the supply of weaponry to Armenia has not been considered within the framework of the European Peace Facility. She outlines that from the EU’s perspective, the disparities between Ukraine and Armenia are significant.
“The problem is that the situation is not as clear as in Ukraine. And then, it might sound banal, Ukraine has always been rather relevant geopolitically. Now the South Caucasus is also a relevant region in terms of trade, transit roads, initiatives such as the ‘Belt and Road’, ‘North-South Corridor’, etc. However, Armenia itself is a country situated in a strategically difficult geographic and geopolitical location and therefore, from a realistic political perspective, it has been rather marginalized,” the researcher explains.
Following Azerbaijan’s latest attack on Nagorno-Karabakh, there was a discussion in the European community about adopting a joint statement condemning Baku on behalf of 27 EU member states. The initiative failed because Hungary effectively vetoed it.
However, experts are confident that the attack on the borders of Armenia by Azerbaijan could alter the situation.
“I think if Azerbaijan tries to attack the core territory of Armenia and get this [Zangezur] corridor, then it would be sanctioned by the EU, and Germany would support the sanctions… These would be mainly economic sanctions, and Germany or the EU would probably stop gas imports from Azerbaijan. I believe the majority of German political parties would support this approach. From the German standpoint, Azerbaijan’s attempt to establish this connection through military power would be considered as crossing the red lines,” says Dr. Sarjveladze.
The researcher emphasizes the persistent risk of any EU member state blocking the imposition of sanctions, given the consensus-based decision-making within the EU. However, Mikheil Sarjveladze highlights that Germany’s position would be of great importance in this context due to the country’s leading role within the EU. If individual EU states were to position themselves against the sanctions in the case of an attack, they would have to contend with considerable pressure.
Yet, it is noteworthy that neither Germany nor Hungary are among the largest consumers of Azerbaijani or Russian gas passing through Azerbaijan, as Italy holds the top rank.
While Hungary is explicitly mentioned as a country opposing the adoption of the EU statement on Nagorno-Karabakh, some information is available suggesting that Italy might have also opposed the initiative.
Speaking about the application of European sanctions against Azerbaijan, researcher Nadja Douglas points out certain disagreements among experts regarding the events in Artsakh and the legitimacy of Baku's actions. Nevertheless, at least in the humanitarian context, there is unequivocal consensus that armed missile attacks on the civilian population are reprehensible.
“I would have expected that at least when it became clear that there was a forced displacement of the Armenian population happening in Nagorno-Karabakh, there would have been deliberations on sanctions. But that didn’t happen. Therefore, I’m not entirely sure what would happen if a real attack on the sovereign territory of Armenia would be launched: that would completely change the nature of Azerbaijan’s aggression and the quality of international law violations,” Dr. Douglas notes.
The expert also views the gas deal signed between the European Union and Azerbaijan as a farce, arguing that while Europe is indirectly reducing its reliance on Russia, it falls into a new dependence on Azerbaijan, another autocratic state, characterized by a lack of democratic transitions and weak civil society.
 European Parliament resolution of 5 October 2023 on the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh after Azerbaijan’s attack and the continuing threats against Armenia (2023/2879(RSP)), https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-9-2023-0356_EN.html
This article was published within the frames of “Correspondents in Conflict” Project,
implemented by Yerevan Press Club and Deutsche Gesellschaft e. V. The Project is
funded by the German Federal Foreign Office within the “Eastern Partnership Program”.
The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of the implementing partners and can in
no way be taken to reflect the views of the Federal Foreign Office. #civilsocietycooperation
Garik Harutyunyan, a Yerevan-based freelance data journalist, holds a journalism and Iranian studies background from Yerevan State University and is currently pursuing a PhD in Journalism. Previously, he worked as an online journalist at Razm.info and a news presenter at ShantTV. Presently, he's a TV journalist and fact-checker at Factor.am online TV, a data journalist at Ampop.am. In addition, he is a data journalism and visualization trainer, and a lecturer at YSU.