French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu (left) speaks at a joint news conference with his Armenian counterpart Suren Papikyan, Yerevan, February 23, 2024.

By Astghik Bedevian

YEREVAN (Azatutyun/AFP) — France will provide more weapons and other military assistance to Armenia to help it defend its territory, French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu said during a first-ever visit to Yerevan on Friday, February 23.

“Threats hanging over Armenia force us to move forward faster,” he told Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. “It is very important for us to react and take necessary steps quickly.”

Speaking after talks with his Armenian counterpart, Suren Papikyan, held earlier in the day, Lecornu confirmed that Armenia took delivery the previous night of the first batch of French night-vision devices commissioned by it last year. The Armenian military will also soon receive air-defense radar systems and more armored personnel carriers from French manufacturers, he said.

The French defense group Thales signed with the Armenian Defense Ministry a contract for the supply of three GM200 radars during Papikyan’s visit to Paris last October. Papikyan and Lecornu signed at the time a “letter of intent” on Armenia’s future acquisition of short-range surface-to-air missiles manufactured by another French company.

Lecornu indicated that the supply of the Mistral air-defense systems is a matter of time. What is more, he expressed France’s readiness to also sell more long-range systems to Armenia. He further announced that a French military adviser specializing in air defense will be deployed in Armenia to help it neutralize “possible strikes by potential aggressors.”

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“Nobody can reproach the Armenian army for boosting its defense capacity,” Lecornu said at a joint news conference with Papikyan, clearly alluding to Azerbaijan’s strong criticism of French-Armenian military cooperation.

Papikyan emphasized, for his part, that Yerevan is acquiring these and other weapons for purely defensive purposes in light of the “visible threat” to Armenia’s territorial integrity.

“Armenian-French defense cooperation and joint efforts are exclusively aimed at establishing long-term peace and stability in the South Caucasus region, as well as at developing the defense capabilities of Armenian’s armed forces,” the defense ministry in Yerevan said.

Analysts say both Moscow and Baku are carefully watching Armenia’s growing cooperation with France.

Neither minister shed light on a number of documents that were signed by them after their talks.

The AFP news agency reported that the Armenian side also signed on Friday a supply contract with the French company PGM manufacturing sniper rifles. It said no details of the deal were made public.

In October 2023, France announced the sale of defense equipment — three radar systems and night vision goggles — to Armenia, provoking anger from Azerbaijan.

This week French President Emmanuel Macron expressed concern about a “risk of escalation” between Armenia and Azerbaijan as he received Pashinyan in Paris.


Suspension of CSTO Membership

In an interview with broadcaster France 24, Pashinyan said Armenia was suspending its participation in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Moscow-led defense pact that comprises several former Soviet republics.

Pashinyan said that the CSTO “had not fulfilled” its obligations in relation to Armenia.

“We have effectively frozen our participation in this organization,” he said. “We will see what happens tomorrow.”

He also accused Moscow of leading a “coordinated propaganda campaign” against him and his government.

The Kremlin said Friday that it had not received confirmation that Armenia was putting on hold its membership in the pact.

“I have a feeling that Nikol Pashinyan is going all-in, demonstrating that he has found a serious military shoulder to lean on in Armenia’s confrontation with Azerbaijan,” political analyst Arkady Dubnov told AFP. “Pashinyan is playing a risky geopolitical game by shifting responsibility on Macron.”

Analyst Tigran Yegavian said Azerbaijan would continue to “nibble away” at Armenia’s territory.

“The question is whether French military support can act as a deterrent.”

The defense cooperation comes amid Armenia’s mounting tensions with Russia, its longtime ally. Neighboring Iran has also signaled uneasiness over the pro-Western tilt in Armenian foreign policy.

“Our Iranian partners respect our cooperation with other partners, and I think our Russian and other partners should do the same because Armenia has no taboos when it comes to cooperation for the benefit of Armenia,” Papikyan said in this regard.

Armenia is “turning to partners that are truly providers of security,” Lecornu said when asked to comment on the tensions between Yerevan and Moscow.



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