EU ‘demanding very clearly that people of Nagorno Karabakh need to have guarantees for safe return' – Exclusive
BRUSSELS, NOVEMBER 17, ARMENPRESS. The European Commission’s lead spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy Peter Stano has commented on the EU’s decision to launch visa liberalization talks with Armenia and support the country through the European Peace Facility.
In an exclusive interview with Armenpress Brussels correspondent, Peter Stano also commented on Azerbaijan’s recent statement accusing the EU of ‘undermining peace and stability’ in the region.
The EU spokesperson also spoke about the importance of the return of forcibly displaced Armenians to Nagorno-Karabakh under international guarantees.
Armenpress: The High Representative spoke about the possibilities of visa liberalization. To what extent is this realistic and on what processes does it depend on being brought to life?
Stano: The European Union said very clearly at the level of the leaders of the European Union in their meeting in October that we want to explore ways to further support Armenia and deepen our cooperation with Armenia and then in the follow up discussions this week by foreign ministers, the Foreign Minister said that one of the ways we are looking at is the visa liberalization. So, we are going to explore options for visa liberalization with Armenia. This means we will start the process to see whether it's feasible, whether it's possible. Visa liberalization is something that is very important because it's tangible and visible for people. But it's also something where all the Member States need to agree eventually and where there are also tasks to be fulfilled on the side of the partner country, in this case of Armenia, but again, it's important that there is an agreement. We want to start to look at the options and explore the possibility of visa liberalization. So, we are launching a process. This is the start of the process, but it is a process that eventually, if everything goes well, might bring a lot of benefits for the Armenian citizens.
Armenpress: What kind of tasks? Can you give one or two examples?
Stano: In general, for visa liberalization, there are technical requirements that means biometric passports, for example, but also political requirements to make sure that the political framework in the country prevents people from misusing the asylum system. First of all, that people are not forced to leave the country and claim asylum. Because this is one of the main priorities when it comes to visa. Free visa regimes that we don't want to have sudden increase of asylum seekers and in order to prevent the misuse of the, let's say, visa free or liberalized travel regime. So political criteria and technical logistical criteria on the side of the applicant and then of course the Member States need to be convinced, need to be assured that everything has been done on the side of the partner country that the visa liberalization in this case will not be misused.
Armenpress: The second point of the press conference by the High Representative was the support via the European Peace Facility mechanism. What exactly does supporting Armenia within the framework of the European Peace Facility represent? This is interpreted in various ways in Armenia, how would you explain it?
Stano: Maybe it would be good to explain what European Peace Facility means. The European Peace Facility is an instrument, a financial instrument, of the European Union through which we are supporting countries. When it comes to strengthening their resilience, their ability to strengthen their stability and security, and the European Peace Facility has two levels, I would say, for example, in Ukraine we are using it very much to help the military to defend the country against Russia's illegal aggression. But then in other countries we are using the EPF, for example, to finance our peace missions or observation missions or monitoring missions. This is the case also with Armenia. So, for example, the EU mission, which is currently in Armenia is also something that is financed through the EPF as well. So, there are many ways how to support, especially the safety, security, stability and resilience of the country. So, the Member States have said this is another means of our support or of our willingness to support Armenia, to look also at ways how we could support Armenia's resilience through EPF. Again, this is the start of the process. So, we are looking at ways how to support, with what to support. So, there is no concrete proposal yet about how this support could look like. But when you look around at other countries, what we are doing, for example we are helping countries, in case of Moldova, to improve their ability to counter foreign interference we are helping countries to improve their capacities to fight cyber-attacks. So, these are ways through which or these are ways which are being supported through the European Peace Facility, but again, in case of Armenia, anything is possible. So, Member States are starting the discussions about what would be the best way to use the EPF to support Armenia.
Armenpress: The Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan criticized Mr. Borrell's statements during the press conference and said "the EU's attempts to supply Armenia with weaponry and thereby support its insidious militarization policy that undermines peace and stability in our region, encourages a policy leading to new confrontations in the region, that lays a responsibility on the EU. Plans to employ the European Peace Facility, which, among other areas, implies the buildup of military capabilities, serve to exacerbate tensions in the region". In fact, Azerbaijan threatens not only Armenia but also the EU. What is your take on this? Azerbaijan criticizes the arming of Armenia, while it has three times higher military budget, and weapons shipments do not stop landing at the Baku airport. How do you interpret this rhetoric of Azerbaijan?
Stano: I think it's logical that every country takes steps, sovereign independent steps to protect itself. That means also beefing up its military and acquiring military assistance from wherever they decide. So, every country does it. We don't need to name names, but every country does it. That's like basic doctrine of defending itself or having the army able to defend yourself, so countries are receiving military support from partners, from markets, you know. They might get it depending on their relations. This is the right of every country that is independent and sovereign, and no one has any right to meddle into it as long as all the international laws and agreements are being met. But again, the support or what the European Union has said in terms of supporting Armenia has nothing to do with arming Armenia. We just want to increase or support Armenia in strengthening its democratic institutions and its ability to protect itself against any kind of threats, I mean, we said very clearly that we stand very firmly by Armenia's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. This is one of the cornerstones not only of our relations with Armenia, but of international relations. This is why we are helping Ukraine, because Ukraine is fighting exactly because its neighbor Russia blatantly violated the UN Charter, international laws and bilateral agreements and wants to deny Ukraine the right to exist and the right to be sure and independent country that takes its own decisions. But in case of Armenia, we are in a different situation, of course, but in terms of principles, of course the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Armenia needs to be respected and if it will not be respected, there will be consequences for whomever violates this. This is a very clear position of the European Union. Secondly, our support to Armenia is for democratic institutions to help the country in its current situation to strengthen the democratic institutions and the ability, the resilience of the democratic institutions and not arming Armenia. So, anyone who is criticizing the European Union for what we are doing vis a vis Armenia should try to maybe reconsider twice and try to understand what we are doing and what we are saying, because in no way what we are doing with Armenia is directed against anyone else. The European Union has a track record of being very transparent partner providing assistance, whatever assistance, political, economic or be it military in a very transparent way. So, there is no need to be concerned because this is for the sake of Armenia, of the Armenian people and to strengthen the democratic institutions and reinforce the respect for sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Armenia.
Armenpress: How was this statement, or more precisely this threat received by the EU institutions?
Stano: The European Union is very transparent when it comes to managing our relations with third countries, with our partners. We have nothing to hide and again, our bilateral cooperation with one is not directed against anyone else. This is just between the two of us, in line with European policies and principles and the European Union actually is one of the very few actors in the world where these principles are very transparent, very inclusive and very transparent. So, we are not doing, you know, like black deals or something behind the table with hidden agenda and it's not the European Union which provokes instability. It's not the European Union that makes unilateral military steps. But what we have seen in case of Nagorno Karabakh, we have seen unilateral military steps, launching of a military operation despite previous assurances that the issue will not be solved militarily. So, one needs to be a little bit also like self-reflective when pointing fingers to others. But again we say there is absolutely no reason to criticize anything the European Union says or does vis a vis Armenia. This is very transparent. It's not directed against anyone and we are working honestly frankly and sincerely in order to bring more stability into the region to prevent unilateral steps to prevent military actions, because we believe, based on our own experience, that issues, problems and frictions are best solved by talking, by engagement and sitting at the negotiating table. And that's why we are always happy and standing there to be also ready to facilitate or continue facilitating the normalization process between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which was also another thing that came out of the European Union, from the Council in October, and from the ministers meeting this week we called on Armenia and Azerbaijan to resume the negotiations and resolve all the pending issues with the view to conclude the peace treaty, ideally by the end of the year. We are there to support. We cannot, of course, impose, we cannot force anyone. But again, the EU is an honest broker without any hidden agenda. Our only aim is peace, stability and prosperity for everyone.
Armenpress: The Azerbaijani side first rejected the meeting in Granada at the last moment, then the meeting scheduled for the end of October in Brussels. How do you interpret these rejections by Aliyev? To what extent does the EU consider Azerbaijan’s steps as constructive?
Stano: Our role as the facilitator or mediator is not really to commend the behavior of one side or another. Our role and our efforts are focused on being there for both parties, as long as they are willing, to help them to find solutions. We are facilitators. We cannot impose, we cannot force. We do our best. We offer our capacities, our energies, our time, sometimes also our resources to make sure that the engagement continues. And when the parties are ready, then we mediate the specific meetings. But even despite the fact that what you mentioned about the meetings at the higher level that have been cancelled, the engagement is still going on, you know. So, we have a lot of bilateral engagements, both with Armenian partners with Azerbaijani partners, both in Brussels and on the ground in Baku, in Yerevan. So, I mean, we try to do our best. Again, encouraging parties to get together, to have the meetings, the sooner the better, and I think this was also captured, this political expectation of the European Union was captured in the call from the Foreign Affairs Council this week, when the High Representative said that we call for the resumption of negotiations and we want to see them continue and we stand ready to continue offering our services in this process, because in the end it was both parties who turned to us after they realized that Russia is not an honest broker, after they realized that you cannot really rely on Russia, because Russia has its hidden agenda. And in the case of Armenia, Russia failed hugely to deliver on its commitments to Armenia. So, we are there because we are an honest broker, we will do our best because our best motivation or strongest motivation is our own history. We know that we had a troubled history of relations between countries in Europe. We were fighting each other. We were killing each other, but we found a way forward to create the unique community which is called European Union and we want to share this experience, the best practices also with the people in the Southern Caucasus and in the region east from us, because we know that in the end the only ones who are suffering are ordinary people, and we want to prevent that. So, we are there standing ready to help, to advise, to encourage. But again, we will not impose, we cannot impose and we will not be forcing anyone.
Armenpress: As you say, after all these military attacks and the political calculations, ordinary people pay the bill and it is the case for the people of Nagorno-Karabakh. What does the EU plan to do to protect the rights of the forcibly displaced NK residents, apart from financial support?
Stano: First of all, the EU was not silent when it comes to that, we are very well aware of, maybe disappointment or criticism that the EU has not done enough, but I have to remind everyone that the EU is not an interventionist force. The instruments we have at our disposal are political and diplomatic and we are using them in terms of political or diplomatic instruments. There were statements, public statements condemning the unilateral military operation in Nagorno Karabakh by Azerbaijan very, very swiftly. I can recall only two very strong statements by the High Representative and Member States on this issue, I can recall the special session of the United Nations Security Council, where the High Representative, on behalf of the European Union, publicly delivered very strong messages condemning this, expressing our shock about the sudden displacement and mass exit of people from Nagorno Karabakh. So, the European Union was loud and vocal, not only in the public domain, because we were doing the same in international fora, which are maybe not so loud and not so visible to the broad public and the same we were doing bilaterally, delivering messages to partners who are relevant in this context, not only to Azerbaijan, of course, but also allies of Azerbaijan, because as I said, the EU is very transparent and it's important for us to speak up when the principles are violated. And then we are demanding very clearly, that the people of Nagorno Karabakh need to have guarantees for a safe return. You know, their property cannot be reoccupied or confiscated or resettled by someone else. There needs to be guarantees for the safe return of these people if they decide to return. We also increased our humanitarian assistance to those who fled to Armenia. We keep demanding international access and international presence in Nagorno Karabakh as part of these assurances for the people. We are also encouraging Azerbaijan authorities to launch really a meaningful, credible dialogue with the Karabakh Armenians, because the situation needs a solution and the solution cannot be that these people, more than 100,000 people simply leave their houses and their home basically. So, we continue working in engaging both with Azerbaijan, Armenia but also with international partners, because this is a task for the international community. Again, it's not the EU who will come and impose a solution on someone. So, we need to use diplomatic and political means through international fora and through cooperation with international partners to make sure that there are enough guarantees so that people, if they decide so, they can return to their homes.