France is emerging as a potential new defence ally and arms supplier for Armenia, as Yerevan’s relations with Russia continue with deteriorate, with this week Paris opening a “defence mission” in the country and “examining its defence needs”.
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna announced her visit to Armenia on October 3 to meet her Armenian counterpart Ararat Mirzoyan, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, as well as Armenian refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh.
France has backed Armenia in its conflict with Azerbaijan but has never supplied weapons to the country before. French Defence Minister Sébastien Lecornu stated on September 29 that he “doesn’t believe” that France will intervene militarily in case of an attack on Armenia. However, he said the decision is up to the country’s president and commander-in-chief, Emmanuel Macron.
Following Azerbaijan’s attack on Nagorno-Karabakh last month and the mass exodus of the region’s local ethnic Armenian population, France has taken an active stance, initiating a UN Security Council meeting, opening a consulate in Armenia’s southern Syunik region and providing humanitarian assistance for refugees.
French officials, including Macron himself, have accused Baku of “threatening” Armenia’s borders, stating that France will protect Armenia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. “Integrity, sovereignty, protection of the Armenian population are for us an absolute objective”, Lecornu stated, citing Macron.
French defence minister’s statement comes as Armenia seeks to diversify its arms imports and find new allies after Russia failed to provide the country with ordered weapons worth around $400 million (it and has not yet returned the money). The failed arms deal came as an additional trigger in the worsening Russia-Armenia relations, which made Armenia seek to diversify the sources of its arms imports, looking at the West and India.
Rumours about Armenia seeking to buy weapons from France have been circulating online since summer, with official Yerevan refusing to give details about the process, limiting the comments to their objective to “diversify security needs” of Armenia.
The Armenian authorities, however, did not try to hide their negotiations and contracts with partners in India. India has reportedly already delivered large amounts of weapons and ammunition as the countries signed a number of contracts since 2021. India’s exports to Armenia include Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launcher and Akash surface-to-air missiles, both exported from India for the first time.
The diversification of Armenia's arms supplies has been met with a cold welcome in Moscow, Armenia’s leading supplier of weapons since its independence.
Azerbaijan, however, appeared to be the one most worried about the deliveries, saying it “aggravates” the situation and seeks to “militarise” Armenia while the countries are negotiating over a peace deal.