Tuesday, France Touts Military Support For Armenia • Artak Khulian France - French Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu (left) greets his Armenian counterpart Suren Papikian in Paris, October 23, 2023. Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu underlined France’s commitment to helping Armenia “defend itself” on Tuesday one day after holding talks with his visiting Armenian counterpart Suren Papikian followed by the signing of first-ever arms deals between the two countries. One of them calls for the South Caucasus nation’s purchase of three sophisticated radar systems from the French defense group Thales. Lecornu and his Armenian counterpart Suren Papikian also signed a “letter of intent” on the future delivery of French-manufactured surface-to-air missiles. No financial details of these agreements or delivery dates were made public. “Armenia must be able to defend itself and protect its population,” Lecornu said in a series of tweets posted on the X social media platform in French and Armenian. “Happy to progress, with you dear Suren, on the three pillars of our defense relationship,” he wrote, listing the planned arms supplies, training of Armenian military personnel and technical assistance to the ongoing “transformation” of Armenia’s armed forces. Lecornu reaffirmed that a senior French officer will be sent to Armenia to advise its military on those reforms and that teams of French instructors will teach Armenian troops new combat techniques. The training courses will focus on “mountain combat and precision shooting,” he said. France - Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov attends a news conference during a contract signing event for GM200, a medium-range radar produced for air defense, as part of a visit at the Thales radar factory in Limours, February 1, 2023. The French minister also pointed to the “upcoming audit” and “reinforcement” of Armenia’s air defenses that suffered serious losses during the 2020 war in Nagorno-Karabakh and last year’s border clashes with Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani army’s heavy use of Turkish and Israeli-made combat drones and the Armenian side’s failure to neutralize them determined, in large measure, the outcome of the six-week war. Speaking at a joint news conference with Papikian on Monday, Lecornu said Armenian officers will be trained to operate the GM200 radars and short-range Mistral missiles that are also due to be sold to Yerevan. GM200 can simultaneously detect and track multiple warplanes, drones and even rockets within a 250-kilometer radius, allowing air-defense units to hit such targets. France supplied two such systems to Ukraine earlier this year. France, which is home to an influential Armenian community, is the first Western country to have pledged to provide major weaponry to Armenia. Papikian again thanked Paris for its military support when he met with senior French lawmakers on Tuesday. Still No Date Set For Aliyev-Pashinian Talks In Brussels • Astghik Bedevian • Tatevik Lazarian Belgium - EU Council President Charles Michel meets the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Brussels, July 15, 2023. It remained unclear on Tuesday whether the European Union’s top official, Charles Michel, will manage to host fresh talks between Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev before the end of this month. Pashinian and Aliyev were scheduled to meet, together with Michel and the leaders of Germany and France, on the fringes of the EU’s October 5 summit in Granada, Spain. Armenian officials expected them to sign a framework peace deal there. However, Aliyev withdrew from the talks at the last minute, citing pro-Armenian statements made by French officials. Michel said afterwards that the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders will likely hold a trilateral meeting with him in Brussels later in October. Pashinian’s office refused to clarify on Tuesday whether the meeting will take place and, if so, when. An Armenian pro-government lawmaker, Gurgen Arsenian, said in this regard that Yerevan “hasn’t cancelled the meeting.” “I still assume that the meeting will take place and be productive,” Arsenian said without giving any possible dates. Addressing the European Parliament last week, Pashinian said he hopes to meet Aliyev and sign an Armenian-Azerbaijani peace treaty “by the end of the year.” He said the deal is hampered by Baku’s reluctance to recognize Armenia’s borders and its demands for a special corridor to Azerbaijan’s Nakhichevan exclave passing through Armenian territory. Azerbaijan’s recent takeover of Nagorno-Karabakh raised more fears in Yerevan that Baku will also attack Armenia to open the corridor. Pashinian echoed them in his speech at the EU legislature. Azerbaijan - Azeri and Turkish troops start "Mustafa Kemal Ataturk-2023" joint exercises, October 23, 2023. The Azerbaijani and Turkish militaries began on Monday a joint military exercise near Armenia’s Syunik province sandwiched between Nakhichevan and mainland Azerbaijan. It reportedly involves 3,000 soldiers, over a hundred artillery systems and several Turkish F-16 warplanes. The drills coincided with a meeting in Tehran of the foreign ministers of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia and Turkey. In a joint statement issued after the meeting, they called for regional peace based on the “inviolability of internationally recognized borders” and spoke out against “use of force” or threats of it. The Armenian Foreign Ministry confirmed on Tuesday that Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan and his Azerbaijani counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov spoke separately during the Tehran gathering. A ministry spokeswoman appeared to downplay their “informal” conversation, saying that this kind of contacts is “customary for such platforms.” Armenia, Iran To Scrap Truck Tolls In Mutual Trade • Robert Zargarian Armenia - Iranian trucks are parked on a roadside in Syunik, October 7, 2021. In an effort to boost bilateral trade, Armenia and Iran have agreed to stop levying road taxes from commercial trucks entering each other’s territory. Armenian Minister of Territorial Administration and Infrastructures Gnel Sanosian and Iranian Minister of Roads and Urban Development Mehrzad Bazrpash announced the agreement after talks held in Yerevan on Monday. “The idea is to nullify all payments [for road use] for both Iranian trucks travelling to Armenia or using Armenia as a transit route and Armenian trucks entering Iran … and to help that business develop more successfully,” Sanosian told reporters. “When we abolish the road tolls, goods will reach consumers at a lower cost,” Bazrpash said, for his part. Armenia currently charges Iranians truck using its highways roughly $250 for every journey to or through the South Caucasus country. Armenian hauliers pay a similar sum in Iran. The governments of the two neighboring states have for years discussed the possibility of mutual abolition of the truck tolls. The two ministers did not say when the agreement to that effect reached by them will be put into practice. It requires amendments to their tax legislations. According to Armenian government data, Armenia’s trade with Iran rose by 6 percent year on year to almost $454 million in the first eight months of this year. Iranian exports to Armenia accounted for as much as 85 percent of that figure, suggesting that the scrapping of the tax will primarily benefit Iranian firms. Cargo traffic between the two states is carried out through Syunik, the sole Armenian region bordering the Islamic Republic. Two Iranian companies were formally contracted by the Armenian government on Monday to rebuild a 32-kilometer section of the region’s main highway leading to the Iranian border. Sanosian and Bazrpash attended the signing of the contract worth $215 million. Armenia Protests To Russia Over Anti-Pashinian TV Show • Aza Babayan RUSSIA -- The flag of Channel One at the Ostankino TV Center in Moscow, October 28, 2019 The Armenian Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador in Yerevan on Tuesday to condemn Russia’s leading state-run broadcaster for disparaging Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian during an hour-long program aired on Monday. The ministry said Ambassador Sergei Kopyrkin was handed a note of protest in connection with “offensive and absolutely unacceptable statements” made during the program. The Russian Channel One’s talk show featured videos scrutinizing Pashinian’s background and casting him in a bad light as well as pro-Kremlin panelists who denounced his track record and portrayed him as a Western puppet tasked with ending Armenia’s close relationship with Russia. The show host, who added her voice to their derogatory comments, also interviewed an Armenian opposition politician, Andranik Tevanian, in the studio. The unprecedented program highlighted a deepening rift between Moscow and Yerevan which accelerated after last month’s Azerbaijani military offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh and Russia’s failure to prevent or stop it. Addressing the European Parliament last week, Pashinian accused Moscow of using the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict to try to topple him. A Russian government source responded by comparing the Armenian leader to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine which was invaded by Russia last year. Russia - Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin chairs a session of the Russian State Duma, October 27, 2022. In what appeared to be a related development, the speaker of the Russian lower house of parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, announced on Tuesday that the State Duma has indefinitely delayed the passage of legislation allowing holders of Armenian driving licenses to work as drivers in Russia. Volodin attributed the move to Yerevan’s failure to give the Russian language an official status. The Armenian government signaled its unhappiness with state-controlled Russian broadcasters’ coverage of Armenia even before the scandalous show aired by Channel One. A parliament deputy representing Pashinian’s Civil Contract party said last month that the government should ban the retransmission of this and two other Russian TV channels in the country. But another pro-government lawmaker, Gurgen Arsenian, spoke out against such a ban. Arsenian, who is also Armenia’s ambassador-designate to Russia, downplayed the Channel One program, claiming that it actually boosted Pashinian’s approval ratings at home. Reposted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL Copyright (c) 2023 Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Inc. 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.