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World

French defence minister visits Armenia amid Azerbaijan tensions

todayFebruary 22, 2024 6

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By Marina DE RUSSÉ

Paris, Feb 22, 2024 (AFP) – France’s Sebastien Lecornu is due to travel to Armenia on the first trip by a French defence minister to the South Caucasus nation, as tensions rise with Yerevan’s historic rival Azerbaijan.

Lecornu’s trip 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 last week warned that Azerbaijan is preparing for a “full-scale war” with Armenia after decades of tensions over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

“France and Armenia have a historical relationship of friendship, but the defence relations have not reached the level of the intensity of the bilateral relations,” Lecornu’s office said.

The minister, who will be accompanied by members of parliament and defence industry representatives, is due to arrive in Yerevan on Thursday evening.

The visit comes amid a growing rift between the Soviet-era master Moscow and Yerevan, which has grown angry with the Kremlin over its perceived inaction on Armenia’s long-running confrontation with Azerbaijan.

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

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

Lecornu said at the time that 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.

France opened a defence mission in Yerevan in January 2023.

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.

On Wednesday, 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.

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 each other of opening fire on their volatile border in a skirmish that Armenia said left four of its soldiers dead.

After the new spate of tensions Armenia and Azerbaijan’s leaders held direct talks on the sidelines of a security gathering in Munich and agreed to push on with peace negotiations.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev then travelled to Turkey where he held talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday.

Azerbaijan has repeatedly hit out at France for criticising Baku’s Karabakh offensive last year, and for plans by Paris officials to help arm neighbouring Armenia.

In January, an Azerbaijan parliamentary commission called for the expulsion of French companies from the oil-rich country.

Azerbaijan authorities arrested a Frenchman on espionage charges in December.

mdr-as/ah/spb

THALES

AFP

(NAMPA / AFP)

Written by: Staff Writer

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