France May Have Forced America’s Hand (In a Good Way) in the South Caucasus

Oct 13 2023

French co-operation with Armenia in its conflict with Azerbaijan is a welcome step towards ending Russian domination in the region

The South Caucasus region is a geographic landmass plagued with perpetual conflicts throughout history. With one of the oldest cultures on Earth, Armenia has historically been sandwiched between various conflicting empires.

Armenia faces a humanitarian and cultural catastrophe, which has drawn the ire of the international community at Azerbaijan’s actions. France has taken a stand the most and is currently preparing a defense cooperation agreement with Armenia and building a new consulate in Syunik province. With Paris growing their relationship with Yerevan, it could lead to a domino effect of drawing Washington into the fold—something that is needed to stop the new potential conflicts and ethnic cleansing that could take place if new wars were to commence.

During the commencement of the United Nations General Assembly, Azerbaijan, to much dismay, conducted a military offensive in Karabakh between September 19th and 20th to destroy the remaining Armenian militias in the region. The Azerbaijani military, supplemented by renewed weapons shipments from Turkey and Israel, quickly capitulated the Artsakh Defense Forces. In the ensuing chaos, over 100,000 Armenians fled the region. In less than a week, most Armenians in Karabakh fled for fear of their safety.

Though Azerbaijan claims it was not ethnic cleansing and had no intentions of it, statements made by the European Union and the United States told a different story, with calls for sanctions and reviewing the Western partnership with Baku.

During the 2020 war and 2022 border invasion of Armenia, Azerbaijan committed many war crimes, such as beheadings of Armenian civilians and sexual assaults of female Armenian POWs—a gross violation of the Geneva Conventions.

War crimes were purposely uploaded to telegram channels, as the autocrat of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, rewards such actions. Ramil Safarov was pardoned and named a national hero to much international condemnation for hacking an Armenian officer to death in his sleep with an axe in Hungary.

Fearing they could suffer the same fate of previous appalling actions of the Azerbaijani military and the lack of enforcement or care by Russian peacekeepers, the Armenian community hastily fled—leaving a refugee crisis to much of the world’s dismay and lack of diplomacy.

The lack of response by the international community to Azerbaijan’s sudden military operation raised the eyes of the bureaucratic practices when dealing with autocrats. The European Union is an example of this as the ongoing gas deal with Aliyev to digress from Putin saw the bloc trade one tyrant with numerous human rights abuses for another.

While most of the West has stayed silent, France has become the country that has stepped up the most to Armenia’s aid. Paris has grown its relationship with Yerevan, one of the few countries to condemn and warn of Baku’s actions in the aftermath of the 2020 war.

Russia, which has enacted information warfare against France in their former colonies, has also used similar hybrid warfare methods against Armenia—as Yerevan’s and Moscow’s relationship has drifted over the past several years. With a historical relation with the plight of Armenians stemming back to the rescues during the Armenian Genocide at Musa Dagh, France also sees an opportunity to reciprocate help for them against Turkey and Azerbaijan.

The French foreign minister and senate recently approved a military aid package and plan to create a consulate in Syunik as Azerbaijan and Turkey have stepped up warlike rhetoric against the Armenian province over the ‘Zangezur Corridor.’ France and Lithuania were also the most vocal in condemning Azerbaijan’s military aggression, as Baku promised “integration,” but used fear and intimidation against the Karabakh Armenians.

France’s drift to Armenia is opportunistic for both nations. Armenia is currently searching for a path of Western integration after multiple false promises and failures by Russia. At the same time, France looks to be the first NATO member to have an actual presence in a region that has been under the forceful eye of the Kremlin for hundreds of years.

Adomino effect of growing French cooperation with Armenia is that the partnership can bring America into the fold. In the aftermath of World War Two, US foreign policy has continuously intertwined with France’s geopolitical ambitions.

Initially supporting decolonization efforts, the United States condemned the tripartite French-British-Israeli invasion of Egypt, known as the Suez Canal Crisis. America would also come to the aid of the Lebanese government during the 1958 Civil War, as France could not provide military assistance due to their war in Algeria.

During the height of tensions between France and Vietnam, the US took the French side over the pro-American Ho Chi Minh, which led to the brutal Indochina Wars.

France is one of the three NATO members, along with Turkey and the US, with a force projection after most of the alliance went through decades of slow demilitarization. As Turkey and the US have geopolitically drifted, Washington has considered Paris their top NATO force projection partner.

American and French forces work in tandem in anti-terror operations in the Sahel. Washington supplemented Paris in the diplomatic and military field as France had lost vast influence in their former colonies.

The United States has grown closer to Armenia, particularly after the 2022 clashes mended by an American ceasefire. Joint military exercises in Syunik province for the first time in early September helped solidify a growing partnership.

Though Armenia would never be admitted into NATO if it left CSTO due to Turkey and Hungary, the country could serve as a major non-NATO ally akin to South Korea, Japan, Israel, and Ukraine.

France’s growing relations with Armenia can serve as a conduit for increasing American diplomatic and military aid for the next several years, as the actions of Turkey and Azerbaijan have put the US military support for these nations under question. Armenia’s PM Nikol Pashinyan has rescinded all territorial claims against his neighbour. At the same time, Ilham Aliyev refused the Western-backed reconciliation, and the ball is now in the latter’s court to stop provocative actions.

Putin has quietly grown towards Azerbaijan, whose gas offers a digression to evade Western sanctions, whereas Armenia has drifted West, with French diplomacy being a prime engagement factor.

With Russian influence waning as the Kremlin’s irrational actions alienated their own ‘allies,’ the West can finally integrate a region abandoned after the USSR fell compared to Eastern Europe, which significantly benefits from the Western partnership.