Ties between Russia and the West have deteriorated further of late due to the arrest and prosecution of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. On Monday EU foreign ministers agreed to sanction four senior Russian officials close to President Vladimir Putin in response to Navalny’s jailing.
Moscow warned earlier this month that it is ready to sever ties with the EU if the 27-nation bloc hits it with fresh economic sanctions.
Toivo Klaar, the EU’s special representative for the South Caucasus, was asked about the sanctions’ possible impact on EU-Russia cooperation on the Karabakh settlement when he spoke with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service after meeting with senior Armenian officials in Yerevan on Tuesday.
“I think we have interacted and I have personally had many meetings in Moscow over the years,” Klaar said in an interview. “In the case of Nagorno-Karabakh and also in the case of the conflict in Georgia, we will continue to have contacts and work with Russia.”
“Frankly, I think that it was a great achievement to have a ceasefire and Russia is to be commended for the fact that it was able to achieve a ceasefire in November,” he said. “The deployment of the [Russian] peacekeeping forces has helped to bring security and that is to be welcomed. Of course, this is only part of the way in the sense that we have not yet a peaceful settlement, we have a ceasefire.”
The Armenian-Azerbaijani ceasefire agreement was brokered by Putin on November 9 after six weeks of heavy fighting in and around Karabakh that left thousands of soldiers dead.
The agreement also calls for the restoration of transport links between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Russian President Vladimir Putin, his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian decided to set up a trilateral “working group” for that purpose when they met in Moscow on January 11.
Klaar held talks on Tuesday with the working group’s Armenian co-chair, Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigorian. He said they had “very good discussions on what is being talked about in the trilateral working group on communication links.”
“Of course, right now we are not part of this trilateral working group but with the outcomes of the trilateral working I’m sure that the EU will look to play a positive role where it can to support the opening of communication links,” added the diplomat.
Klaar dismissed suggestions that a lack of EU support for Armenia and its current government formed as a result of the 2018 “Velvet Revolution” has helped Russia increase its already strong influence on the South Caucasus state after the war.
“I don’t agree with those who say that the EU failed Armenia,” he said, pointing to the upcoming entry into force of the EU’s Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement with Armenia signed in 2017. He also argued that the EU has provided “substantial” aid designed to help Yerevan cope with the coronavirus pandemic and humanitarian consequences of the Karabakh war.
“I do realize that the present situation is very difficult in Armenia and I have heard that many times over during the meetings that I have had here … But again, the European Union stands firmly with Armenia and with the region,” stressed the EU envoy.