France, Armenia Hail Military Ties Amid Russia Tensions


(MENAFN- The Peninsula) AFP

Yerevan: France and Armenia on Friday hailed growing military cooperation as Armenian leader Nikol Pashinyan seeks to reduce his small country's dependence on former master Russia.

In an interview with French media, Pashinyan said Armenia had put on ice its participation in a Russia-led security bloc, while France's Sebastien Lecornu travelled to Armenia on the first such trip by a French defence minister to the South Caucasus nation.

Diplomatic tensions are high between France and Azerbaijan, which arrested a Frenchman on espionage charges in December.

And a rift is growing between Moscow and Yerevan, which has become angry with the Kremlin over its inaction over Armenia's long-running confrontation with Azerbaijan.

"Armenia has adopted the idea of modernising the army. We are going to use our own means and the help of partner states," Armenian Defence Minister Suren Papikyan said in Yerevan alongside Lecornu.

Lecornu said Armenia was "turning to partners who really provide security".

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Caucasus country has relied on Russia for its military and economic support, and also hosts a Russian military base.

But many Armenians say they cannot forgive Moscow for shirking its responsibility to defend their country militarily against Turkey-allied Azerbaijan.

Analysts say Moscow, which invaded Ukraine in 2022, does not want to hurt ties with Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Armenia and Azerbaijan fought two wars, in the 1990s and in 2020, before Azerbaijani forces last September retook control of the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in a lightning offensive that ended three decades of Armenian separatist rule over the enclave.

Pashinyan has warned that now Azerbaijan is preparing for a "full-scale war" with Armenia, whose population is around three million people.

'Peace and stability'

On Friday, Armenia agreed a deal for the purchase of precision rifles from French arms manufacturer PGM, though its price tag was not disclosed.

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

"Armenian-French defence 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 defence capabilities of Armenian's armed forces," the defence ministry in Yerevan said.

Azerbaijan has slammed France's policy of "militarisation" in the Caucasus.

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

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

France is home to a large Armenian diaspora, and this week a stateless Armenian poet, who died fighting the Nazi occupation of France during World War II, became the first non-French Resistance fighter to enter the Pantheon mausoleum for national heroes.

'Risky game'

In an interview with broadcaster France 24, Pashinyan said Armenia was suspending its participation in the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), a Moscow-led defence 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 organisation," 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."

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