EU Monitors Are Barred by Russia from Nerkin Hand, Site of Last Week’s Attack that Killed 4

Azerbaijani forces attacked Nerkin Hand on Feb. 13, killing 4 Armenian soldiers

The head of the European Union’s Monitoring Mission in Armenia revealed on Wednesday that his team is barred by Russia from entering the Nerkin Hand region of the Syunik Province, which was the site of an Azerbaijani attack last week that left four Armenian soldiers dead.

Markus Ritter, the head of the EU’s mission, explained that while his team can visit the entire territory of Armenia, it is barred from entering Nerkin Hand, which is being monitored by Russian Security Forces.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday during an event marking the first anniversary of the EU’s mission in Armenia, Ritter hinted that if his team attempted to enter the area “there could be problems.”

He explained that since the mission he leads is invited by Armenia, it is contingent on the Yerevan authorities to address the issue with Moscow since the EU mission “does not communicate with the Russian peacekeeping forces stationed in Armenia.”

The EU has been criticized by both Moscow and Baku for deploying a mission to Armenia. Russia blamed Armenia for engaging the EU and West, which it says seek to destabilize the region. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan, citing similar concerns, has accused the mission of aiding and abetting Armenia to conduct “anti-Azerbaijani” activities along the border.

Last week, the Ambassador of the European Union to Azerbaijan, Peter Michalko, was summoned to the Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry, which accused EUMA of being exploited as an “anti-Azerbaijani propaganda tool,” and becoming an agent of “binocular diplomacy.”

The EU’s Ambassador to Armenia Vassilis Maragos told reporters that such accusations were baseless.

“Our mission has a very clearly defined mandate. It is deployed on the Armenian side of the international border with Azerbaijan, and is exclusively engaged in what is outlined in its mandate, to ensure its presence, to carry out patrols, with the goal of helping to ensure peace in the region. This is what we’ve always been doing. Any other accusation or slander on engaging in any other activities are absolutely baseless,” Maragos told reporters at the event marking the first anniversary of the mission. 

Maragos added that all EU member states support the mission. “We are resolutely aiming for strengthening peace and stability in the region,” he said.