Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne was in Vienna today for meetings with officials of various international organizations and Austrian leaders to talk about flashpoints in Europe and Azerbaijan.
Champagne arrived in Austria from Greece as part of his week-long tour of European capitals to discuss with allies the tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, the war between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh and the situation in Belarus and Ukraine.
Champagne held meetings at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
“It’s all about security today — Nagorno-Karabakh, the issue in Belarus, Ukraine obviously,” Champagne said in a brief video posted on his Twitter account.
The OSCE plays an important role in the search for a negotiated solution to the decades-long Nagorno-Karabakh conflict through its Minsk Group mechanism. Champagne said he held meetings at the OSCE with the U.S., Swedish, Albanian and French ambassadors and was also expected to meet with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Schallenberg.
Canada and its NATO and European allies are increasingly worried about the impact of Turkey’s dispute with Greece in the Eastern Mediterranean and Ankara’s involvement in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict — which has the potential to draw the rest of the North Atlantic alliance into a military conflict with Russia in the Southern Caucasus.
Violence in Nagorno-Karabakh continues
Despite diplomatic efforts to stop hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh, fighting between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces continued for the 18th straight day today as both sides exchanged accusations and claims of new attacks over the breakaway Armenian-populated territory.
Nagorno-Karabakh lies inside Azerbaijan but has been under the control of its ethnic Armenian population, which voted in December of 1991 to break away from Azerbaijan. Azerbaijani authorities never recognized the results of the referendum and their attempts to regain the region by force were defeated by local Armenian forces backed by Armenia.
As a result of the war, which ended with a Russian-brokered ceasefire in 1994, Armenian forces also captured seven districts of Azerbaijani territory that are outside of the Armenian-populated region.
The war in the 1990s resulted in nearly 30,000 dead and about 1 million refugees. Russia brokered a truce on Oct. 9 to end the latest round of fighting and allow Armenian and Azerbaijani forces to collect their dead, exchange prisoners and begin negotiations on resolving the decades-long conflict. But it never took hold.
Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday, emphasizing the need to respect the truce that was violated immediately after taking effect Saturday.
Putin also voiced concern about the involvement of militants from the Middle East in the conflict — a reference to Turkey deploying pro-Turkish Syrian jihadist fighters against Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Moscow is increasingly concerned about the presence of Syrian jihadist fighters in Azerbaijan, which borders Russia’s restive Dagestan region in the eastern Caucasus Mountains.
Erdogan denied deploying combatants to the region. A Syrian war monitor and Syria-based opposition activists have stated that Turkey has sent hundreds of Syrian opposition fighters to Nagorno-Karabakh.
In a further sign that the conflict is widening, Azerbaijan’s military said it destroyed an Armenian missile system on the territory of Armenia proper that allegedly was positioned to target civilian areas.
Armenia’s Defence Ministry responded by stating that it reserves the right to target Azerbaijani military assets and troop movements.
So far, Armenia and Azerbaijan have denied targeting each other’s territory in the fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh, although both parties often have contested such denials.
The threat of a wider war
An expansion of hostilities beyond Nagorno-Karabakh could trigger a dangerous escalation of the decades-old conflict. Armenia has a mutual defence treaty with Russia, while Turkey, which has one of the largest militaries among NATO countries, has pledged to support Azerbaijan “on the battlefield and around the negotiating table,” in the words of Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
Russia’s defence treaty with Armenia doesn’t apply to Nagorno-Karabakh, but Putin has warned Azerbaijan and Turkey that if the fighting spreads to Armenia proper, Moscow will be forced to defend its ally.
In a sombre address to the nation on Wednesday, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan admitted that outgunned and outnumbered Armenian forces have suffered setbacks on the battlefield and accused Azerbaijan and Turkey of continuing “Turkey’s genocidal policy” toward Armenians.
Champagne’s next stop is Brussels, where he will meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell.
Champagne is also planning to meet Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes before moving on to the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, where he will hold a “mini-summit” with his counterparts from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.