EU observers came under fire on Azerbaijan border, officials report

Observers with the EU’s civilian monitoring mission in Armenia were caught up in a firefight along the country’s border with Azerbaijan on Tuesday, their operational headquarters confirmed, according to Politico.

In a statement posted on social media, the EU mission in Armenia said one of its patrols “has been present to the shooting incident in our area of responsibility.” Some 100 unarmed staff have been deployed under the EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy to observe the tense frontier in the wake of a brief war between the two South Caucasus countries last year.

The confirmation came after Armenia’s defense ministry reported that gunfire from Azerbaijani positions had “targeted the EU observers” patrolling close to the border village of Verin Shorzha and their vehicle.

But in a bizarre twist, the confirmation came only after the EU mission categorically denied the Armenian claim, going as far as to publish a graphic branding the information “false.” The EU mission retracted the message shortly afterward.

A spokesperson from the EU’s External Action Service declined to comment, referring the matter to the mission’s local press office, which did not immediately respond to requests for clarification.

Azerbaijan’s defense ministry on Tuesday denied that its troops had opened fire on the EU observers, saying the reports “do not correspond to reality” and amounted to “disinformation” from Armenia. Because the EU monitors share their car registration details and coordinates with both sides ahead of their patrols, Baku continued, it would have been “theoretically and practically impossible for such a situation to occur.”

The contingent of civilian monitors, modeled on a similar deployment in neighboring Georgia, came after Azerbaijani forces took a number of strategic heights inside Armenia’s borders in a two-day war last September.

Baku has consistently opposed the move, with Azerbaijan’s envoy to the EU, Vaqif Sadiqov, telling Politico in April that it was an unwelcome intrusion “a few hundred meters from our own border posts and in a heavily militarized environment where we have Russian border guards, Armenian border guards, Russian regular units, Armenian regular units and, closer to the Iranian border, Iran’s military.”

On Wednesday, the United Nations Security Council will hear an appeal from Armenia calling on the U.N. to intervene in a worsening humanitarian crisis in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, inside Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized borders but home to tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians. Yerevan accuses Baku of blockading the mountainous territory for the past two months and aid organizations say they are unable to deliver supplies of food and fuel to those living there.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov waded into the melee on Tuesday, speaking to his Azerbaijani counterpart, Jeyhun Bayramov about the need to “deescalate tensions around Nagorno-Karabakh as soon as possible, including unblocking humanitarian routes,” according to Moscow’s readout. Russia sent peacekeepers to the region as part of a ceasefire it brokered between the two countries following a bloody war over the region in 2020, but they have since failed to preserve the status quo. The EU, U.S. and a number of other governments have joined calls for free movement to resume.