27 May 2024 / 16:53 RU

    French weapons cannot change the balance of power between Armenia and Azerbaijan in a short term

    Benyamin Poghosyan

    Chairman, Center for Political and Economic Strategic Studies

    The 2020 second Nagorno Karabakh war, the ongoing war in Ukraine, the September 2023 military takeover of Nagorno Karabakh by Azerbaijan, and the forced displacement of the entire Armenian population have significantly impacted the geopolitics of the South Caucasus. Russian influence and the possibility of shaping the developments have decreased, while Turkey has significantly increased its involvement. Meanwhile, the South Caucasus's importance for Russia has grown, as Russia views the region as an essential logistic route to reach Asian and Middle Eastern markets via Turkey and Iran in its overall strategy of shifting trade from the West to the East.

    In these evolving geopolitical changes, Armenia continues to face significant security challenges. Some in Armenia might have hopes that after destroying self – proclaimed Nagorno Karabakh Republic, Azerbaijan will quickly move to sign a peace agreement with Armenia, which itself will pave the way for Armenia – Turkey normalization, the opening of Armenia – Azerbaijan and Armenia–Turkey borders and ensuring the secure and prosperous future of Armenia. However, six months after the destruction of Nagorno–Karabakh, those hopes were crashed. Armenia is now much more vulnerable from a military point of view, while Azerbaijan puts new demands and reiterates old ones to move forward in peace negotiations – changes in the Armenian constitution and other laws, the establishment of the corridor connecting Azerbaijan with Nakhijevan and Turkey, rejection to withdraw from around 200 square km of Armenian territory, which Azerbaijan took during 2021-2022 incursions into Armenia.

    In the current environment, as the peace agreement with Azerbaijan becomes less realistic, new attacks against Armenia seem quite likely; while Armenia – Russia's political relations are rapidly deteriorating, Armenia seeks to deepen relations with other external actors, hoping to deter the new Azerbaijani attacks.

    One of these partners is France. Since Armenia gained independence in 1991, Yerevan and Paris have always enjoyed a close partnership. It was based on historical ties and the presence of around half a million Armenian Diaspora in France. France, along with Russia and the US, was a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, which, for more than two decades, was managing Armenia – Azerbaijan negotiations and which de facto stopped its activities after the start of the Ukraine war in February 2022. President Jacque Shirak visited Armenia in 2006, Nicolas Sarkozy arrived in Armenia in 2011, President Francois Holland joined Armenia's leaders in commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide in 2015, and President Emmanuel Macron was one of the prominent guests of the Yerevan La Francophonie summit in 2018.

    The economic ties between the two states were far behind political connections, with few French companies functioning in Armenia, such as Pernod Ricard, which owns the Yerevan "Ararat" brandy factory, water supply management company Veolia, and retail giant Carrefour. The telecommunication company Orange started its operation in Armenia in 2009 but sold its business to a local company in 2015. From January to September 2023, France held the fifth place among the EU trade partners of Armenia with 117.6 million USD, behind Germany (almost 500 million USD), Italy (316 million USD), Netherlands (267 million USD), and Poland (133 million USD), while for the same period Armenia's trade with Russia reached almost 5 billion USD.

    Immediately after the 2020 Nagorno Karabakh war, France activated its political cooperation with Armenia. In late November 2020, the French Senate adopted the resolution on ‘’the necessity to recognize the independence of Nagorno Karabakh Republic'', and France's National Assembly approved a resolution in December 2020 calling on the government to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as a “republic.”

    President Macron met with acting Prime Minister Pashinyan in Paris on June 1, 2021. He stated that France was prepared to assist the Armenian people and demanded that Azerbaijani troops leave Armenia's sovereign territory, which they controlled as a result of the May 2021 incursion. Pashinyan met with Macron in Paris also in September 2022, immediately after the large–scale Azerbaijani attack against Armenia on September 13-14, during which Macron reiterated strong support for Armenia. France, as the permanent member of the UN Security Council, initiated discussions on the Armenia – Azerbaijan situation at the UN SC immediately after the September 2022 Azerbaijani attacks against Armenia and supported the deployment of the EU Observer Mission in Armenia to monitor Armenia – Azerbaijan border, first in October 2022 and then with a 2-year mandate in February 2023.

    France also increased its involvement in the Brussels platform of negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. President Macron took part in the meeting of October 6, 2022, in Prague, where Armenia and Azerbaijan signed a statement recognizing each other's territorial integrity within the Alma-Ata declaration of 1991. Macron was present during the multilateral Armenia – Azerbaijan meeting, which took place on June 1, 2023, in Chisinau, during the first summit of the European Political Community.

    After the military takeover of Nagorno–Karabakh by Azerbaijan in September 2023, France increased its support to Armenia. In October 2023, Armenian defense minister Suren Papikyan visited France and signed agreements on defense cooperation, including a contract for the purchase of Thales-made radar systems. In January 2024, the French Senate adopted a resolution demanding sanctions against Azerbaijan, condemning Azerbaijan’s September 2023 military aggression against Nagorno-Karabakh and repeated violations of Armenia’s territorial integrity. On a visit to Yerevan on February 23, 2024, French Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu said helping Armenia was France's foreign policy "priority." "It is because Armenia needs us right now that we are here," Lecornu told reporters. France’s support, stated Armenian Defense Minister Suren Papikyan, “means we can look forward to long-term planning in the years ahead.”

    However, despite the start of the defense cooperation, France is far away from signing a mutual defense agreement with Armenia, which will ensure France's direct military involvement in case of new attacks against Armenia. France is ready to provide weapons, as well as training for Armenian soldiers and officers, but is not going to deploy French troops on the ground. Weapons that may come from France cannot change the balance of power between Armenia and Azerbaijan. At the same time, the training of the Armenian soldiers and officers by France requires years to have a substantial effect. In purely military terms, cooperation with India is much more significant for Armenia both in scope and depth. Thus, while Russia is becoming less reliable as a security partner for Armenia, and Azerbaijan is looking for a window of opportunity to attack Armenia and establish a direct land connection with Turkey by taking parts or the whole of Armenia's Syunik and Vayots Dzor regions, Armenia should diversify its foreign policy without entirely alienating Russia. In this context, France is significant, but there are other partners for Armenia. Countries such as Iran, India, and Greece should be a focus of Armenia's multi-alignment policy.    


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    18 March 2024 / 11:32