Whatever the grievances against Russia — some justified, others questionable — it is not in Armenia’s interest to break off its strategic relations with Moscow and even less to accept the role of a pawn on a chessboard that will be swallowed in any scenario.

The Armenian government, the ruling party and part of the diaspora, in believing they are attracting the protection of the West, are unwitting instruments of war games and propaganda, as well as disinformation campaigns beyond their control.

The country is already a nest of spies, including from hostile countries. Furthermore, the European Union Mission in Armenia (EUMA) — officially a civilian operation under the European Union’s Common Security and Defense Policy — is composed of military and police personnel from many countries, whose objective is officially to stabilize the borders. This objective is proving to be a failure since the mission is still absent from the border areas where Azerbaijani troops are violating Armenian territory almost daily. This is not surprising, though, since the EUMA communicates its movements along the border to Azerbaijan in advance so it will not be fired upon by Azerbaijani border guards. Hence, one must wonder if the real mission would not be to keep an eye on Russia and Iran.

With the Armenian government gutting all the intelligence services and the general staff of the armies as soon as it came to power in May 2018 by the “Velvet Revolution” — including in the middle of the war from September to November 2020 — the country has been subjected to a takeover of its destiny by shadowy services and advisors. The request to regain control of the border police at Zvartnots airport should be seen in this context. This step to regain sovereignty looks futile when considering that Azerbaijan occupies 170 square kilometers of its territory, The move is clearly anti-Russian and likely to be dictated by Western partners. Without Russian border guards, Western and Israeli spies will be able to enter Armenia without the knowledge of Russian and Iranian intelligence.

Armenia seems to be controlled — consciously or unconsciously — by Western strategists who are using it to first weaken and then eliminate any Russian presence in the South Caucasus, at the risk of leading the former to its ruin.

A sensible person could hardly imagine that Western countries would protect Armenia militarily in the event of Azerbaijani aggression. The example of Ukraine, a large country with vast agricultural resources in which Western economic interests, particularly American, are significant, speaks for itself. After two years of war, some Europeans, led by France, are taking the initiative because Ukraine is on the brink of military collapse and the United States might pause its military aid. In other words, one may imagine how Armenia will be treated in case of Azerbaijani aggression, since it has little economic and strategic interest compared to Ukraine.

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But why is France engaging in this anti-Russian campaign? Is it sincere and does it have the means to totally support Armenia? Is it ready to provide the weapons that Armenia would need to protect itself? Would France be supported by its European and American allies?

France’s Anti-Russian Motivations

In a previous column, I was wondering about France’s motivations for its commitment to Armenia. The answer came by recent President Emmanuel Macron’s controversial and contested remarks in relation to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict : this support is part of a personal battle against Russia. It is a way of straddling a fine line both domestically and internationally. We need to analyze France’s discourse and actions and look at President Macron’s political situation in France and at diplomatic and military realities on the international level.

Macron is a weakened leader on the domestic front. His major proposed reforms have either been abandoned or are half-successes; his popularity is very low. He is above all a communicator with populist overtones with a very egocentric conception of power. Abroad, France is in retreat on both diplomatic and military fronts. France, one the second largest diplomatic networks after the United States, is now ranked fifth (Global Diplomacy Index, 2023), overtaken by Turkey and Japan. France is trying to take revenge for the ousting or unpopularity of the presence of its army in the countries of French-speaking Africa, its former colonial glory, “Françafrique.” At the same time, Russia has established itself as the new military partner of several post-colonial African states. Now diminished, only the status of being a nuclear power counts as France’s military-strategic asset in the world.

The recent campaign aims to convince the world that the Russians present a threat to Europeans and to the French people and that it is therefore necessary to consider all war scenarios, including having boots on the ground in Ukraine. By using this strategy of threatening Russia, President Macron is trying to create an image of a war leader with strong words, whereas all military specialists and geopoliticians know that it is time to negotiate in Ukraine and that France does not have sufficient military capabilities to engage in a large-scale conflict.

Dominique de Villepin, former prime minister and a highly respected strategist in international affairs, denounced Macron’s “strategic excitement,” which exposes the international community to the risk of an exponential escalation of the war.

Moreover, this communication strategy backfired on President Macron recently. The United States, the Europeans — in particular the Germans — have officially denied that such scenarios are on the table or have been discussed collectively. The British and the Americans have declared that there is no question of them sending troops to Ukraine. These reactions are meanwhile open to criticism given that these countries are physically present on the Ukrainian ground with many military advisors and trainers, not to mention all the intelligence agents and members of special forces. Another element of hypocrisy is that the West is struggling to supply ammunition, but welcomes the Czech Republic’s initiative to call on international arms dealers (“lords of war”) to supply it. The biggest slap in the face came from Ukraine: President Volodymyr Zelenskyy replied to Macron that he needed weapons, not foreign troops on its soil.

France’s Support for Armenia

France’s sympathy for the Armenians is not in question. The latter are a model of successful integration. They suffered a genocide and they are Christians. The conservatives and Christian right in the country have been politically mobilized since the last Karabakh war. Thanks to the efforts of the Armenian community and the Armenian Embassy in France, the French Parliament has taken positions that are unique in the world on the right to self-determination of Karabakh Armenians and the condemnation of ethnic cleansing. President Macron himself has certainly displeased the Ministry for Foreign Affairs by taking such a clear-cut position in favor of Armenia. This has not always been the case.

Indeed, it should be remembered that France was one of the three mediators of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, along with the US and Russia, tasked with reaching a settlement of the Karabakh question. Hence, it was supposed to be neutral to ensure dialogue between the parties in the conflict. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine completely changed the situation and the Minsk Group no longer operates. Starting in February 2022, the French, the Europeans and the Americans wanted to control the peace process to the detriment of the Russians. The Karabakh question was exploited and the surrender of Karabakh was blamed solely on the Russians alone. This is again a hypocritical posture, since all three mediators had agreed that Karabakh should be returned to Azerbaijan based on the concept of respecting territorial integrity, leaving the official status of Karabakh to a later stage. It is clear that in the current war for influence in the South Caucasus the right to self-determination of the Armenians of Karabakh and the protection of Armenia’s territorial integrity are no longer at stake. The West wants total political and military control of the region.

President Macron’s actions within international institutions cast doubt on the sincerity of his support for Armenia. France, very aggressive in demanding more sanctions against Russia, is still not demanding any against Azerbaijan. Members of Macron’s political party in the European Parliament (belonging to the RENEW European party) failed to vote in favor of an amendment which called for immediate sanctions against Baku. These MEPs argued that it was necessary to leave a window for negotiations and that sanctions should be reserved in case of a new aggression. Are the ethnic cleansing of Karabakh and the occupation of 170 square kilometers of Armenian territory not sufficient to justify sanctions? Should we conclude that these sanctions will only be called for once the invasion of southern Armenia has been completed?

Furthermore, economic relations between France and Azerbaijan remain strong despite the tense communications between the two states: Azerbaijani exports to France increased 57-fold in 2023.

The perception of France in Armenia does not seem affected by these realities. In Armenia, as in part of the diaspora, people still believe in a foreign providential savior, a belief for which Armenians have paid a high price in their history. A survey financed by American institutions designed to show that Armenians are turning away from Russia reveals that 69% of them consider France to be their most important political partner, far surpassing all other countries. When it comes to (military) security, 50% view France as the safest partner. Iran and the United States are tied at second with 46% and Russia is fourth with 31%. India does not appear in this survey despite its growing economic and military importance. The Indian community in Armenia is second only to the Russians with a population of around 15,000. The respondents recognize that, in economic terms, the most important partners are Iran (49%), Russia (48%), and China (40%). France only comes in at the fourth position with 34%. According to the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs latest figures, from October 2023, France is actually only Armenia’s 13th supplier and 28th customer.

France’s communication around its arms deliveries or its new military cooperation agreements with Armenia, supported by a visit from Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu in February 2024, makes some noise, but is the reality up to Armenia’s defense challenges? Let’s have a comparative look at what France supplies to Ukraine.

As a reminder, the weapons supplied to Ukraine are light armored vehicles, Caesar cannons and ammunition, and there is now talk of delivering SCALP missiles (Franco-British manufactured). The SCALP-EG is a conventional strategic weapon capable of striking high-value targets, far from the line of front (400 to 500 kilometers). The Germans and Americans officially refuse to supply Ukraine with long-range missiles. In the Ukrainian air fleet, only the Su-24 has been adapted to carry SCALP missiles, potentially 14 aircraft (end December 2023). A priori, the American F-16, on which Ukrainian pilots are currently training, is not suitable for SCALP.

The official policy of the French Defense Ministry is to supply equipment and materials adapted to the context of engagement of the Ukrainian armed forces. These deliveries must meet three criteria: deliver complete capabilities (equipment with ammunition, training and equipment maintenance), not weaken the French army and control military escalation.

In October 2023, France and Armenia signed a letter of intent on air defense which includes a contract for the acquisition of three Ground Master (GM200) radars from Thales capable of detecting enemy aircraft at a distance of 250 kilometers. There is also a contract for the supply of very short-range ground-to-air weapon systems (Mistral) designed to complete the ground-air coverage of the armored and mechanized corps. It provides isolated units with their own anti-aircraft defense. The Mistral is used in conjunction with warning radars. Incidentally, France and Armenia concluded a contract for the supply of night vision binoculars, manufactured by Safran, and 50 Bastion light armored personnel carriers.

This exclusively defensive equipment is used to detect threats or protect ground troops, but what about deterrent weapons? What weapons would Armenia need to counter a large-scale Azerbaijani aggression? The configuration of the South Caucasus, the small size of the territories, the imbalance of arsenals and troops — largely in favor of Azerbaijan — make the possibility of a long conventional war like the one taking place in Ukraine doubtful.

Armenia would need stealthy surface-to-surface missiles for conventional deterrence and surface-to-air missiles for defense. Long-range strategic missiles are weapons of destruction, but their possession is above all a powerful means of deterrence for the countries that possess them. Is France willing to supply Armenia with such weapons without delay?

The answer to this question will determine the sincerity of Paris. These conventional deterrent weapons are the only immediate solution to prevent any military aggression by Azerbaijan. They could be used to destroy strategic targets deep inside Azerbaijani territory, paralyze the Azerbaijani economy and, in addition, destroy its strategic weapons stockpiles.

The European Union and the United States have signed strategic cooperation agreements with Azerbaijan for the supply of fossil fuels, so it is unlikely that France would be authorized to supply such conventional weapons that may endanger this supply. Nor would Russia, in the current tense political situation with the Armenian government, look kindly on the arrival of such weapons, which could threaten the flow of its sales of its fossil energy throughout Azerbaijan.

Stance of Western Allies Weakens France’s Position

The European Parliament resolution adopted on March 13 is an anti-Russian provocation. It expresses some good wishes, but contains no firm guarantees to protect Armenia. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) recognizes that Armenia is economically dependent on Russia and believes “that the European Union must be ready to provide rapid assistance to Armenia to mitigate the negative consequences.” The European Assembly recognizes the urgent need to strengthen cooperation between the European Union (EU) and Armenia in the field of security and defense as Armenia reconsiders its membership in the Russia-centered Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and suggests that the EU “should be ready to impose sanctions on any person or entity that threatens the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Armenia.” Above all, this resolution seems opportunely anti-Russian and the wishes expressed seem far-fetched. If the idea for Armenia one day joining the EU — if such an entity exists and will exist politically — is desirable, Armenia must not delude itself about European help in the event of an imminent threat. Just look at the reaction time in the Ukrainian theater of war. Armenia cannot fend off its enemy for two years.

Armenian media alleged in March that British Defense Minister promised military protection of Armenia. If verified (the original source is the Russian media RT), the communication is ambiguous except for one point: it encourages Armenia to break away from the CSTO without offering any concrete security guarantees in return. The anti-Russian objective is clearly expressed, but what about the threats from Azerbaijan? What would “perfidious Albion” do in such a case? It should be remembered that for more than 30 years, Great Britain has invested massively in the fossil fuel economy of Azerbaijan (84 billion USD since 1995). Recently, the British derailed — as did the Russians — the attempts of Armenia and France to have the United Nations Security Council adopt a resolution condemning the blockade of Karabakh, as well as another aiming at the condemnation of the ethnic cleansing of Karabakh and the right of return of the Armenian populations. Great Britain is Russia’s oldest, most aggressive and most discreet enemy. From the very first days of Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine, it took matters into its own hands. In the South Caucasus, it has found another front to weaken Russia. It turns out that the protection of its economic interests is compatible with its geopolitical game. In this game, Armenia would be sacrificed without hesitation.

Unexpectedly, the most clear-sighted, and therefore the friendliest, discourse in this matter came from the United States. The Rand Corporation (one of the think tanks that steer the political and economic decisions of the US government, financed by the latter) has published an analysis of the security situation in Armenia and how the US Government may help or not. The title should give the Armenian government pause for thought: “The United States cannot guarantee Armenia’s security, despite Azerbaijan’s threats, but it can help.” They consider that the United States could help strengthen Armenia’s deterrence capabilities, but they only mention short-range air defense systems such as MANPADS, as well as Trophy countermeasure systems designed to strengthen the defense of armored capabilities. Supplies could also include anti-drone systems. However, the analysts elliptically recommend that Armenia not break with Russia: “But in the immediate term and with the prospect of a possible invasion, the limits of partnership should be made clear. Neither the United States nor its allies are willing to offer Armenia security guarantees, let alone a formal military alliance, given the risks that might entail if Armenia has to call on such assurances. With clarity, Armenia can take that into account in its own strategic calculations vis-à-vis both Azerbaijan and Russia.” They add: “Should Armenia leave the [CSTO] alliance altogether or move explicitly toward the West, it should think carefully given the dangers of a violent reaction from Russia.”

The Armenian government bears a historic responsibility at this critical moment. It has an obligation to inform the people of Armenia of all the risks associated with the current pro-Western but anti-Russian postures. Khosrov Harutyunyan, former prime minister, recently said that the rebalancing of relations between the Western bloc and the Russian bloc must not transform Russia into an enemy. The people of Armenia must be aware of this in total transparency.

The doctrine of positive neutrality between the two blocs is more valid than ever, especially if American semi-governmental circles recommend that Armenia not attempt to break with Moscow. Positive neutrality is not constitutional or functional neutrality, but opportune neutrality. Some European states abandoned their functional neutrality during the conflict in Ukraine (Finland and Sweden). For Armenia, positive neutrality consists of staying away from antagonism between great powers and not becoming a territory where this antagonism would turn into a proxy war like in Ukraine. Positive neutrality does not offer sufficient protection, but in the current circumstances it is the only doctrine that could avert catastrophe. The vast majority of political parties and analysts in Armenia are warning the Armenian government.

It is surprising that the government has given itself over wholeheartedly to this Western game, when its “crossroads of peace” project is based on two axes of communication: the east-west and the south-north ones. The latter is unthinkable without the participation of Russia and Iran. By persisting, the Armenian government becomes a thorn in the side of Moscow and Tehran. The “crossroads of peace” could quickly transform into a “crossroads of internationalized war.”

Finally, positive neutrality requires having a stronger defense. Acquiring conventional deterrent weapons should be a priority for the Armenian government. It is doubtful that France and its allies will provide them.

(Philippe Raffi Kalfayan, based in Paris, is a lawyer, lecturer in international law and a former secretary general of FIDH (International Federation of Human Rights), who has earned a PhD in international law. He is a regular columnist for the Armenian Mirror-Spectator.)


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