European Mission in Armenia Completes Its First Year Amid Regional Tensions

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 37


Executive Summary:

  • The European Mission in Armenia (EUMA) marked its first anniversary in Armenia on February 20 with its presence facing several challenges from Baku and Moscow.
  • The European Union and Armenia regard EUMA as a crucial confidence-building measure to increase international support for shifting Armenian security needs away from Russia and to forge a path to peace with Azerbaijan.
  • Baku asserts that the EUMA is a way for Brussels to embed itself further in the peace process and that Yerevan can use the EUMA to delay the signing of a long-awaited agreement.

On February 20, the European Union Mission in Armenia (EUMA) marked the first anniversary of its deployment on the Armenian border with Azerbaijan (EU Mission in Armenia, February 20). According to the European Union, its purpose is to aid in the normalization process between Yerevan and Baku and enhance stability in the South Caucasus. Last year, the EUMA was deployed following the end of a shorter-term European Union Monitoring Capacity (EUMCAP), which was deployed in October 2022 (Armenpress, February 20, 2023). While Armenia supports the EUMA’s charge, Baku is wary of Brussels’ mediation in the ongoing peace negotiations between both countries.   

Yerevan requested EUMCAP to stabilize the situation on the border that escalated to armed clashes in September 2022. EUMCAP recruited 40 staff members from the 200-strong civilian and unarmed European Union Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM) to support the temporary two-month mission in Armenia (European Council, January 23, 2023). The operation was also funded from the EUMM budget. According to Brussels, the mission was additionally intended to support the border demarcation process and delimitation on both sides. It consisted of 40 unarmed civilian monitors, following an agreement reached at a quadrilateral meeting of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, French President Emmanuel Macron, and European Council President Charles Michel at the first-ever European Political Community Summit held in Prague held earlier that same month (RFE/RL, October 7, 2022).

The EUMA faces several challenges and controversies, further exacerbated by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Azerbaijan and others, including Russia and Iran, assert that the European Union is seeking to embed itself further in an already volatile region. Baku argues that Yerevan can use the EUMA to delay the signing of a long-awaited peace agreement (Azatutyun, October 26, 2023; Euractiv, January 25). From the outset, Russia saw the deployment as an effort by the European Union to challenge Moscow’s 30-year presence in the country, especially after Yerevan rejected a similar initiative by the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (Azatutyun, August 3, 2023). “We see this as yet another attempt by the European Union to interfere by any means in the normalization of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan [and] to oust our country’s mediation efforts,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova (Civilnet, October 12, 2022).

The EUMCAP initiative ended on December 19, 2022. The plans were already in motion to replace EUMCAP with the larger and longer-term EUMA. On January 23, 2023, the EU Foreign Affairs Council scheduled the mission’s official deployment on February 20. According to many observers, France pushed strongly for the EUMA’s establishment, a country fast becoming Armenia’s main ally in the region (Eurasianet, March 6). “Through border monitoring, this mission has really limited the danger of escalation,” French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna told the French Parliament on December 6, 2022. “This presence should continue as long as it is needed. This is our belief. This is also … the desire of the Armenians” (Hetq, December 6, 2022).

Since 2023, the mission has grown from approximately 100 staff members to 138, with plans to reach 209 (Commonspace, December 12, 2023). After a year of operations, Markus Ritter, head of mission and a former German police chief, has overseen 1,720 patrols. Although other EU missions often include staff from local law enforcement and the armed forces, Azerbaijan has been particularly bothered by the inclusion of unarmed French gendarmes, even if temporarily under Ritter’s command (Azatutyun, February 20, 2023).

Azerbaijani Presidential Representative on Special Assignments Elchin Amirbayov had particularly harsh words for the EUMA in early February. He stated, “Different EU officials, including ambassadors, but also military personnel [travel to the border] looking at Azerbaijani positions through binoculars, taking photos and then distributing this on different social media and claiming that it is because only of [the European Union] that Azerbaijan is not attacking Armenia” (APA, February 12; Brussels Signal, February 13).

Additional concerns have been raised regarding the mission’s effectiveness in preventing cross-border incidents. This was more of an issue with exaggerated expectations cultivated by local media that believed the EUMA would be partially or fully armed and would be mandated to respond with force to any incidents involving Azerbaijan. Only a few Armenian analysts warned of the need to communicate the EUMA’s goals more clearly (Commonspace, April 29, 2023). On August 14, 2023, the EUMA reported on X (formerly Twitter) that one of its patrols came under fire from Azerbaijan before deleting the post (, August 15, 2023).

On February 12, purported sniper fire originating from the Armenian border injured an Azerbaijani border guard in Kolluqışlaq, a village in Azerbaijan’s Zangilan district. In response, a retaliatory strike targeted Nerkin Hand, a village located across the border in Armenia, reportedly resulting in the deaths of four individuals associated with Yerkrapah, an Armenian political-military group. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell condemned the attack on the Azerbaijani guard as “deplorable” but deemed Baku’s subsequent actions as “disproportionate” (Armenian Public TV, February 13). The EUMA clarified that it does not conduct patrols in the area. According to Ritter, the mission has access to the entirety of Armenia except for the territory of Nerkin Hand, which falls under the jurisdiction of Russia’s border guards. Ritter emphasized that the Armenian government should address the issue, as the EUMA lacks direct communication with the Russian forces stationed in Armenia. Armen Grigoryan, Armenia’s Security Council secretary, echoed this sentiment (Aravot, February 21). Other reports, however, deny this (Azatutyun, February 23; ArmInfo, February 28).

The European Union and Armenia now regard the mission as a crucial confidence-building measure and a first step to increasing international support for Armenia’s security needs away from Russia. At the recent Antalya Diplomacy Forum in Türkiye held on March 1 to 3, the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus, Tovio Klaar, himself the former Head of Mission for EUMM in Georgia, said that EUMA symbolizes the European Union’s commitment to peace and stability in the South Caucasus. In response to a critical remark about EUMA’s presence in Armenia from Azerbaijani Presidential Advisor Hikmet Hajiyev, Klaar stressed that EUMA would leave Armenia in the event of a long-awaited agreement between Baku and Yerevan (Trend News Agency, March 1). If true, the European Parliament has other ideas. A resolution adopted last month called for the European Council to increase the size of EUMA and to expand its duration to five years (Armenian Public TV, February 29). The resolution even said its responsibility should also “potentially include the Armenia-Türkiye border.”

In the future, if the Armenia-Azerbaijan normalization process stalls and/or if EUMA is extended in February 2025, it will be crucial to prevent local political interests and regional geopolitical tensions from undermining the original goal of the deployment: fostering peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Such efforts must also aim to avoid escalating the conflict.