French Defence Minister Travels To Armenia Amid Azerbaijan Tensions

Feb 22 2024

French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu was to travel to Armenia on Thursday for a two-day visit as tensions mount with Yerevan's arch-enemy Azerbaijan.

Lecornu's trip, the first by a French defence minister to the small South Caucasus nation, comes after French President Emmanuel Macron expressed concern about a "risk of escalation" between Armenia and Azerbaijan as he received Armenian leader Nikol Pashinyan on Wednesday.

Pashinyan has warned that Azerbaijan is preparing for a "full-scale war" with its longtime foe after decades of tensions over the breakaway territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

"France and Armenia have a historic relationship of friendship, but the defence relationship has not been at the level of the intensity of the bilateral relationship," Lecornu's office said.

In October 2023, France announced the sale of defensive equipment to Armenia, drawing anger from Azerbaijan.

That deal was announced weeks after Baku seized the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenian separatists.

Lecornu at the time said Armenia would buy three Ground Master 200 (GM200) radar systems from French defence group Thales.

Armenia has also signed a contract to buy night-vision goggles from the French group Safran, and the French army is also set to train Armenian troops this year.

"Armenia is in a position to defend its territory and population, and defence cooperation with France is strictly in line with the objective of helping it to defend itself," the defence ministry said.

Baku, which is backed militarily by Turkey, has slammed what it called France's policy of "militarisation" in the South Caucasus.

France, home to a large Armenian diaspora, has played a mediating role in the decades-long conflict over control of Karabakh, whose recapture by Azerbaijan led to the exodus of some 100,000 Armenians.

Yerevan fears that Azerbaijan, which has been emboldened by its capture of the disputed territory, might now seek to target southern Armenia.

Last week both sides accused the other of opening fire on their volatile border in a skirmish that Armenia said left four of its soldiers dead.