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France and Armenia buffet the peace process in the South Caucasus

photo: gov.am
30 November 2022
Yuri BerbekovYuri Berbekov

Yuri Berbekov

CISS expert

No illusions

From all appearances, the expectations of Armenia and Azerbaijan executing a peace treaty before the end of 2022 will not materialize. The meeting of Ilham Aliyev and Nikol Pashinyan scheduled for December 7 in Brussels through the mediation of Charles Michel, the President of the European Council, got cancelled. Prime Minister Pashinyan laid down mandatory presence of Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, at these negotiations as a condition for his participation in the meeting. Considering the consistent anti-Azerbaijanian policy of official Paris, Baku decisively denied this stunt of Yerevan. «The meeting will not take place», Azerbaijanian President Ilham Aliyev stated.

Indeed, the presence of the French President at the summit in Brussels would mean nothing but strengthening of the non-constructive position of Yerevan. It is known that recently President Macron delivered a number of absolutely thuggish statements towards Azerbaijan and expressed open support of Armenian separatists entrenched in the Karabakh economic region of Azerbaijan. In Paris, gunmen from the Armenian community openly during day-time attacked the Azerbaijanian Embassy under the absolutely passive eye of the French law enforcement agencies, which is an evidence of the pre-planned and pre-agree character of this unprecedented act.

At the same time, on November 28, just as if nothing had happened, Ararat Mirzoyan, the Foreign Affairs Minister of Armenia, informed that Yerevan was «ready to organize within the acceptable timeline the meeting of Nikol Pashinyan, the Prime-Minister of Armenia, Ilham Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan, Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, and Charles Michel, the President of the European Council», with the purpose of discussing the Armenian-Azerbaijanian  state-to-state relations normalization. [1]

It is noteworthy that this statement was made several days after the refusal of N. Pashinyan to sign the final declaration of the CSTO Collective Security Council on November 23 in the Armenian capital. Russian media called this a «stunt» of Nikol Pashinyan. In fact, the point is that the peaceful settlement in the South Caucasus proposed by Moscow and the CSTO allies based on the already existing legal framework and agreed through the mediation of Russia does not suit the incumbent Armenian leaders.

The evident result is the artificial drag of the peace process in the South Caucasus against the background of demonstrative actions by Yerevan to re-activate other negotiations engaging third-party actors, whose impact on the situation in the region and whose reasons look quite questionable.

Such situation presents a potential threat of full-scale armed confrontation between Azerbaijan and Armenia, whose security is assured by their bilateral agreements with the RF and by the CSTO membership, but not by France, European Union, OSCE or other Western states and international NGOs.

In our opinion, based on the current international context associated with the special military operation of Russia in Ukraine and with the aggressive policy of the collective West, the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus (who accepted the presidency in CSTO for 2023) are not interested in the conflict with such friendly states as Azerbaijan and Turkey.

From this perspective, it appears feasible to continue the pressing on the Armenian leaders (without refusal from the allied commitments) to bring them back to the negotiations under the auspices of Russia and to discharge of the obligations assumed by Yerevan.

Such policy is completely in the interests of not only Russia and its allies, but mainly of the Armenian and Azerbaijanian people, because peaceful settlement of this lengthy conflict will allow for release of significant resources, which, obviously, will boost further sovereign development of both nations.

At the same time, participation of third parties in this process appears to be redundant and even harmful. The adequacy of this conclusion is confirmed by the example of French policy in the South Caucasus, where the self-made hype of Paris and various declarations adopted to please the lobbyists from the Armenian community, in reality have no positive impact on the situation, but on the contrary are only aggravating the conflict substituting the smooth progress in line with the peaceful settlement Road Map with the next round of escalation and controversy.

France Armenia: the economic basis is practically missing

On the air of the Armenian Public TV Edmon Marukyan, the Ambassador-at-large, stated that «the world is not limited by CSTO members and our adjacent countries, and the Republic of Armenia is pursuing a balanced policy». The Armenian diplomat listed France among the key partners of Yerevan, emphasizing that special relations with that country are underpinned by «very close friendly relations with their President». [2]

In our opinion, pursuing a balanced foreign policy evidences the maturity of the state and is an important feature of sovereignty. At the same time, maintaining such balance for a small state with limited resources engaged in a military conflict and historic contradictions with the neighbors is a rather complicated diplomatic challenge requiring serious managerial competencies.

The distinctive feature of the Armenian foreign policy is the complementary approach («complementarianism» means mutual additionally), the author of which was Vardan Oksanyan, the Armenian Foreign Affairs Minister in 1998-2008. This doctrine is fixed in the National Security Strategy of 2020 setting the foreign policy priorities for Armenia as «stable deepening and expansion of strategic allied relations with the Russian Federation» and simultaneously «friendly partnership and strategic dialogue with the United States of America» along with «bilateral and multi-lateral partnership with the European Union». This document emphasizes «the exclusive importance of strengthening and developing the cooperation with France and Germany». [3]

In essence, the Armenian complementarianism is close to the multi-vector foreign policy, which some FSU countries are trying to implement into practice in different formats. At the same time, the negative experience of Ukraine and partially Belarus confirms the difficulty of implementing such policy in the long run, especially in the context of aggravation of geopolitical confrontation featuring the current international relations.

In this regard, the issue of the outcome of this Armenian complementarianism is very relevant today, to which extent Yerevans foreign policy is really balanced or they are talking about the «zero-sum game», when the Armenian leaders believe that they are implementing «complementary policy of cooperation» with different centers of power, while global players, mainly the West, are using this illusion in their own interests.

In particular, analyzing the relations of Armenia and France, the «exclusive importance» of which is fixed in the strategic doctrines of Armenian state and is based, in the opinion of Yerevan, on «very close friendly personal relations» with President Macron, does not allow for a firm conclusion about the success and balance of the Armenian foreign policy. For example, trade and economic relations of the two countries look rather modest not only for Paris, but for Yerevan itself. [4]

The statistics show that France is not event in the top-10 foreign trade partners of Armenia. Based on 2021 outcomes, Russia is the leader (the turnover in January-December 2021 was USD 2.6 bn, YoY growth vs. 2020 was 20.9%), China (USD 1.3 bn, 30.7% YoY growth), Iran (USD 502.8 bn, 25.2% YoY growth), Switzerland (USD 385.3 mln, 18.4% YoY decline).

Armenias foreign trade turnover with the CIS countries during the reporting period made USD 2.9 bn demonstrating 20.4% growth, and with the EU countries circa USD 1.6 bn demonstrating 23.4% growth. Among the European countries, the following are in the top-5 of Armenian major trade partners: Germany (USD 289.8 mln demonstrating 2.5% decline), Italy (USD 287.8 mln demonstrating 24% growth), the Netherlands (USD 228.6 mln demonstrating 79.6% growth), Bulgaria (USD 227.6 mln demonstrating 32.3% growth), and Belgium (USD 104.8 mln demonstrating 44.1% growth). [5]

Hence, the economic reality evidences certain illusiveness of the complementary perceptions of the Armenian leaders, when the trade turnover of Armenia with the RF only (without other EAEU countries) practically doubles the turnover of Armenia with the entire European Union, and is ten times higher than the turnover with France, which official Yerevan calls «the exclusive partner».

Destructive policy of Paris and the role of Armenian community

The comprehensive analysis of inter-state relations cannot be brought down to economics only. The current Armenian establishment and the society at large with their friendly attitude towards France view this country as an important political partner of Yerevan and an ally in the security sphere.

This year, the Armenian Prime-Minister Nikol Pashinyan visited France twice, and during the period starting from 2018 he was in Paris 6 times. It is noteworthy that his predecessor at the position of the head of the Armenian state Serge Sargsyan also visited France regularly (12 times in total), including in January 2018, i.e., shortly before he was removed from power owing to the «velvet revolution».

If we are based on the intensity of the contacts at the top and high level, we can assume that «close» relations with different French leaders are typical not only for the incumbent Prime-Minister of Armenia, but for his main political opponents as well. At the same time, official France did not support Serge Sargsyan in any way in the moment of political crisis, welcomed the «velvet revolution» and continued dynamic contacts with the new leader Nikol Pashinyan. Thereupon, the idea of the Armenian diplomat Marukyan about «the personal factor» in the relations between the two countries allegedly based on the sympathy of the French President look speculative.

The French policy in the South Caucasus and specifically in Armenia is determined by other factors, and common approach of the West to pushing out Russia from this region is one of them, as well as lobbying certain political decisions by the influential Armenian community in the European Union.

At the same time, Yerevan and Paris are linked by the agreements in the defense sphere signed by the military authorities of both countries in 2010, however, the French party never undertook special commitments in terms of rendering military support to Armenia. 

France is actively using its «soft power» arsenal in Armenia promoting projects in the education sphere. In particular, the agreement between the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Armenia and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the French Republic promoting French language studies in Armenian educational institutions was signed on 18 March 2011; and the agreement between the Government of the Republic of Armenia and the Government of the French Republic about establishing a French university in Armenia was signed on 8 March 2017.

On 28 May 2018, i.e., after the success of the «velvet revolution», the two countries signed the agreement on establishing the French Agency for Development and Cooperation in Armenia, which is viewed as one of the greatest importance from the Paris influence standpoint. Further on, on 18 November 2022, Armenia signed an Agreement with the French Agency for International Development on receiving EUR 100 mln within the joint budget support program «Fiscal Stability and Financial Markets Development». [6]

Analyzing open sources speaking about the objective of these funds allocation, allows for conclusion about the French party actively funding Armenia in the sphere of «public finance management improvement», as well as in «developing the strategic framework for switching to the green economy». Various training projects for government officials are stipulated, as well as development and implementation of laws and regulations with the assistance of the French specialists. In fact, it is about Paris penetrating deep into the finance and energy sectors of Armenia, where the «green» ideas are still being promoted despite the cooperation with Gazprom and Rosatom. As of today, it is difficult to assess the effect of the French funding on the regulatory framework in the sphere of public finance and environmental management improvement, but we may state already that the positions of France in the Armenian public sector continue to strengthen, even though the French funding is provided on the basis of loans, not as gratuitous subsidies or grants.

Practically simultaneously with signing the above-mentioned agreement, the French Senate on November 25 adopted the resolution calling the government «to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh territory». 305 senators voted in support of this resolution, and only 1 voted against. «I am very proud of todays vote in the Senate, when 305 senators out of 306 call the government to recognize the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic», twitted Bruno Retailleau, the author of the draft resolution and a well-known lobbyist of Armenian interests. In his turn, Nikol Pashinyan called this decision of the French senate a historic one. «Recognition of Artsakh becomes a part of the international agenda», the Armenian leader stated. [7]

It should be noted that the Resolution of the French Senate, despite being anti-Azerbaijanian, is of a declarative character and not binding. The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs demonstrated negative reaction to the initiative of the senators and refused to recognize independence of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. According to Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, the States Secretary of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, unilateral recognition of the separatists regime on behalf of France «would not be useful for anyone».

This assessment by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs looks quite adequate as the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is not recognized by any states at all. It is noteworthy that Armenia itself, despite its policy focused on legalizing the separatists, does not recognize their regime officially.

Hence, the Resolution of the French Senate has no legal force whatsoever and, in essence, has no practical sense from the practically announced outcome standpoint, i.e., the independence of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. At the same time, it is obvious that the instigative activity of the French senators, their interference into domestic affairs of Azerbaijan coupled with public exultation of Pashinyan in social media hamper the peaceful settlement process and does not contribute to increasing the level of trust between Baku and Yerevan.

Actually, this is another demonstration of the destructive policy of the collective West in the South Caucasus, when false hopes are given to the Armenian side in the form of commitment-free pretty gestures and posturing (declarations of support, high-level visits, resolutions, etc.). In fact, all this «white noise» results in undermining the peaceful settlement process and elicits appropriately negative response by Azerbaijan, who is rightfully demanding that Armenia should abide by the provisions of the Tri-lateral Agreement dated 10 November 2020 and follow-up high-level agreements.

At the same time, talking about such unanimous «solidarity» of the French senators on the issue of supporting the separatists in the Nagorno-Karabakh territory, we cannot disregard the factor of very high influence of Armenian community in France (accounting for half a million people, according to some estimates). [8] Some sources even talk about a higher number from 750 thousand to 1 million people. Their political center is the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) a non-commercial organization active in more than 30 countries. To understand the lobbyist capacities of AGBU it should be noted that in 1998 the National Assembly of France approved the bill about recognizing the «genocide» of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire; after that there were a number of attempts to criminalize the denial of the «genocide» of the Armenians similar to the denial of Holocaust.

In analyzing the underlying motives of the Resolution by the French Senate we need to account for the factor of the billionaire Ruben Vardanyan, who in September 2022 announced his decision to renounce his Russian citizenship and to relocate from Moscow to the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, where he was to head the separatists government. In 2000, Vardanyan participated in the training organized by INSEAD (European Business Management Institute, France), he has far-flung network of contacts in the French and European business and political circles. It is noteworthy that in the context of his relocation to Karabakh Ruben Vardanyan made a statement about his intent «to explain to influential people from various countries our activities to assure security and development of Artsakh». He also announced his participation in some «private events in France» to plan the meetings that could «make an important contribution to our common cause». [9]

With this regard, it should be noted that numerous charges were put forward against Vardanyan, and the most high-profile one was the investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) called «Troika Laundromat» published in March 2019. [10] Based on the fact of this scandalous publication, 22 members of the European Parliament signed an open letter to Jean-Claude Juncker, then the President of the European Commission, with the request to assist in investigation with respect to Ruben Vardanyan, however, that story had no criminal or legal implications.

Based on the above, there is an opinion that the pro-Armenian sentiment of the French top political circles may be explained not only by the influence of the Armenian lobby, but may also be incentivized financially by the Armenian community in France.

Conclusion

The French policy in the South Caucasus is generally in line with the common course of the collective West targeted at interference with the negotiation process with the ultimate purpose not as much as to settle the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but rather to compromise the mediating role of Russia.

The trade and economic cooperation of Yerevan and Paris is immaterial and has no special value for the economies of both countries. At the same time, the Armenian leaders have an increased focus on developing special relations with France, these approaches are confirmed by a number of visits at the top and high levels, and are also fixed in the doctrinal documents of the Armenian state.

France is actively using its «soft power» to influence the situation in Armenia, where its main interests lie in the state finance administration and in the banking sector. The French Agency for Development and Cooperation is the key operator of the French influence in Armenia, and there is a special inter-government agreement between the two countries regulating its activities.

The French Senate Resolution dated 25 November 2022, calling the government to «officially recognize the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh territory» being a mere political declaration, received negative response by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and will not be implemented into practice by official Paris.

The good feelings of some French politicians with respect to Yerevan are underpinned by influential Armenian community in France and by the lobbyist activities of some major Armenian business representatives headed by an especially prominent figure of the billionaire Ruben Vardanyan announcing his far-reaching political ambitions.

In practical terms, various political statements by the French parliamentary members including the Resolution by the French Senate on Karabakh are not binding for the French government. Paris is not responsible for assuring security to Armenia.

At the same time, the irresponsible actions by the French Senate hampered the peace-building process based on the Tri-lateral Agreement dated 9 November 2020 and on the follow-up agreements. Such slowdown in the preparation for the peace treaty execution on behalf of the Armenian leaders (illusively counting on the support by the Western countries, mainly by the USA and France) increases the risk of resuming combat activities in the region. In the light of the above, the role of France, given all its external attractiveness in the current emotional moment, is eventually destructive and damaging the interests of Russian people.

1. Exclusive interview by Ararat Mirzoyan, the Foreign Affairs Minister of Armenia, to the Armenpress Information Agency. ARMENPRESS, 28.11.2022. https://armenpress.am/rus/news/1098331.html

2. The world is not limited by CSTO: Marukyan about the balanced policy of Armenia. V Contact, 26.11.2022. https://vk.com/wall-17452458_283052?ysclid=lb3armqx8h766409521

3. National Security Strategy of the Republic of Armenia. https://www.gov.am/ru/National-Security-Strategy/

4. The ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia. Bi-lateral relations. France https://www.mfa.am/ru/bilateral-relations/fr

5. Foreign trade turnover of Armenia in 2021 grew by 17.7% exceeding USD 8.3 bn. Russia, China and Iran are among the leaders. ARKA NEWS Agency, 08.02.2022. https://arka.am/ru/news/economy/vneshnetorgovyy_oborot_armenii_v_2021_godu_vyros_na_17_7_prevysiv_8_3_mlrd_v_chisle_liderov_rossiya_/

6. Armenia received EUR 100 mln facility of the French Agency for Development and Cooperation. TASS, 18.11.2022. https://tass.ru/ekonomika/16365711?ysclid=lb3le3rvht183619044

7. The French Senate adopted the Resolution about recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh territory. RBC, 25.11.2022. https://www.rbc.ru/politics/25/11/2020/5fbe94bb9a794747c49c3128?ysclid=lb3mhko7ux494716699

8. The Armenians of France. Moscow State University analytical center. https://web.archive.org/web/20100925042044/http:/ia-centr.ru/expert/8941/

9. Ruben Vardanyan announced his plans for scheduled meeting in France on Artsakh  issue. Armenia Today, 03.09.2022. https://armeniatoday.news/republicofartsakh-ru/521912/

10. Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. The Troika Laundromat. 19.03.2019. https://www.occrp.org/en/troikalaundromat/

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France and Armenia buffet the peace process in the South Caucasus

photo: gov.am
30 2022
Yuri Berbekov

Yuri Berbekov

CISS expert

No illusions

From all appearances, the expectations of Armenia and Azerbaijan executing a peace treaty before the end of 2022 will not materialize. The meeting of Ilham Aliyev and Nikol Pashinyan scheduled for December 7 in Brussels through the mediation of Charles Michel, the President of the European Council, got cancelled. Prime Minister Pashinyan laid down mandatory presence of Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, at these negotiations as a condition for his participation in the meeting. Considering the consistent anti-Azerbaijanian policy of official Paris, Baku decisively denied this stunt of Yerevan. «The meeting will not take place», Azerbaijanian President Ilham Aliyev stated.

Indeed, the presence of the French President at the summit in Brussels would mean nothing but strengthening of the non-constructive position of Yerevan. It is known that recently President Macron delivered a number of absolutely thuggish statements towards Azerbaijan and expressed open support of Armenian separatists entrenched in the Karabakh economic region of Azerbaijan. In Paris, gunmen from the Armenian community openly during day-time attacked the Azerbaijanian Embassy under the absolutely passive eye of the French law enforcement agencies, which is an evidence of the pre-planned and pre-agree character of this unprecedented act.

At the same time, on November 28, just as if nothing had happened, Ararat Mirzoyan, the Foreign Affairs Minister of Armenia, informed that Yerevan was «ready to organize within the acceptable timeline the meeting of Nikol Pashinyan, the Prime-Minister of Armenia, Ilham Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan, Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, and Charles Michel, the President of the European Council», with the purpose of discussing the Armenian-Azerbaijanian  state-to-state relations normalization. [1]

It is noteworthy that this statement was made several days after the refusal of N. Pashinyan to sign the final declaration of the CSTO Collective Security Council on November 23 in the Armenian capital. Russian media called this a «stunt» of Nikol Pashinyan. In fact, the point is that the peaceful settlement in the South Caucasus proposed by Moscow and the CSTO allies based on the already existing legal framework and agreed through the mediation of Russia does not suit the incumbent Armenian leaders.

The evident result is the artificial drag of the peace process in the South Caucasus against the background of demonstrative actions by Yerevan to re-activate other negotiations engaging third-party actors, whose impact on the situation in the region and whose reasons look quite questionable.

Such situation presents a potential threat of full-scale armed confrontation between Azerbaijan and Armenia, whose security is assured by their bilateral agreements with the RF and by the CSTO membership, but not by France, European Union, OSCE or other Western states and international NGOs.

In our opinion, based on the current international context associated with the special military operation of Russia in Ukraine and with the aggressive policy of the collective West, the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus (who accepted the presidency in CSTO for 2023) are not interested in the conflict with such friendly states as Azerbaijan and Turkey.

From this perspective, it appears feasible to continue the pressing on the Armenian leaders (without refusal from the allied commitments) to bring them back to the negotiations under the auspices of Russia and to discharge of the obligations assumed by Yerevan.

Such policy is completely in the interests of not only Russia and its allies, but mainly of the Armenian and Azerbaijanian people, because peaceful settlement of this lengthy conflict will allow for release of significant resources, which, obviously, will boost further sovereign development of both nations.

At the same time, participation of third parties in this process appears to be redundant and even harmful. The adequacy of this conclusion is confirmed by the example of French policy in the South Caucasus, where the self-made hype of Paris and various declarations adopted to please the lobbyists from the Armenian community, in reality have no positive impact on the situation, but on the contrary are only aggravating the conflict substituting the smooth progress in line with the peaceful settlement Road Map with the next round of escalation and controversy.

France Armenia: the economic basis is practically missing

On the air of the Armenian Public TV Edmon Marukyan, the Ambassador-at-large, stated that «the world is not limited by CSTO members and our adjacent countries, and the Republic of Armenia is pursuing a balanced policy». The Armenian diplomat listed France among the key partners of Yerevan, emphasizing that special relations with that country are underpinned by «very close friendly relations with their President». [2]

In our opinion, pursuing a balanced foreign policy evidences the maturity of the state and is an important feature of sovereignty. At the same time, maintaining such balance for a small state with limited resources engaged in a military conflict and historic contradictions with the neighbors is a rather complicated diplomatic challenge requiring serious managerial competencies.

The distinctive feature of the Armenian foreign policy is the complementary approach («complementarianism» means mutual additionally), the author of which was Vardan Oksanyan, the Armenian Foreign Affairs Minister in 1998-2008. This doctrine is fixed in the National Security Strategy of 2020 setting the foreign policy priorities for Armenia as «stable deepening and expansion of strategic allied relations with the Russian Federation» and simultaneously «friendly partnership and strategic dialogue with the United States of America» along with «bilateral and multi-lateral partnership with the European Union». This document emphasizes «the exclusive importance of strengthening and developing the cooperation with France and Germany». [3]

In essence, the Armenian complementarianism is close to the multi-vector foreign policy, which some FSU countries are trying to implement into practice in different formats. At the same time, the negative experience of Ukraine and partially Belarus confirms the difficulty of implementing such policy in the long run, especially in the context of aggravation of geopolitical confrontation featuring the current international relations.

In this regard, the issue of the outcome of this Armenian complementarianism is very relevant today, to which extent Yerevans foreign policy is really balanced or they are talking about the «zero-sum game», when the Armenian leaders believe that they are implementing «complementary policy of cooperation» with different centers of power, while global players, mainly the West, are using this illusion in their own interests.

In particular, analyzing the relations of Armenia and France, the «exclusive importance» of which is fixed in the strategic doctrines of Armenian state and is based, in the opinion of Yerevan, on «very close friendly personal relations» with President Macron, does not allow for a firm conclusion about the success and balance of the Armenian foreign policy. For example, trade and economic relations of the two countries look rather modest not only for Paris, but for Yerevan itself. [4]

The statistics show that France is not event in the top-10 foreign trade partners of Armenia. Based on 2021 outcomes, Russia is the leader (the turnover in January-December 2021 was USD 2.6 bn, YoY growth vs. 2020 was 20.9%), China (USD 1.3 bn, 30.7% YoY growth), Iran (USD 502.8 bn, 25.2% YoY growth), Switzerland (USD 385.3 mln, 18.4% YoY decline).

Armenias foreign trade turnover with the CIS countries during the reporting period made USD 2.9 bn demonstrating 20.4% growth, and with the EU countries circa USD 1.6 bn demonstrating 23.4% growth. Among the European countries, the following are in the top-5 of Armenian major trade partners: Germany (USD 289.8 mln demonstrating 2.5% decline), Italy (USD 287.8 mln demonstrating 24% growth), the Netherlands (USD 228.6 mln demonstrating 79.6% growth), Bulgaria (USD 227.6 mln demonstrating 32.3% growth), and Belgium (USD 104.8 mln demonstrating 44.1% growth). [5]

Hence, the economic reality evidences certain illusiveness of the complementary perceptions of the Armenian leaders, when the trade turnover of Armenia with the RF only (without other EAEU countries) practically doubles the turnover of Armenia with the entire European Union, and is ten times higher than the turnover with France, which official Yerevan calls «the exclusive partner».

Destructive policy of Paris and the role of Armenian community

The comprehensive analysis of inter-state relations cannot be brought down to economics only. The current Armenian establishment and the society at large with their friendly attitude towards France view this country as an important political partner of Yerevan and an ally in the security sphere.

This year, the Armenian Prime-Minister Nikol Pashinyan visited France twice, and during the period starting from 2018 he was in Paris 6 times. It is noteworthy that his predecessor at the position of the head of the Armenian state Serge Sargsyan also visited France regularly (12 times in total), including in January 2018, i.e., shortly before he was removed from power owing to the «velvet revolution».

If we are based on the intensity of the contacts at the top and high level, we can assume that «close» relations with different French leaders are typical not only for the incumbent Prime-Minister of Armenia, but for his main political opponents as well. At the same time, official France did not support Serge Sargsyan in any way in the moment of political crisis, welcomed the «velvet revolution» and continued dynamic contacts with the new leader Nikol Pashinyan. Thereupon, the idea of the Armenian diplomat Marukyan about «the personal factor» in the relations between the two countries allegedly based on the sympathy of the French President look speculative.

The French policy in the South Caucasus and specifically in Armenia is determined by other factors, and common approach of the West to pushing out Russia from this region is one of them, as well as lobbying certain political decisions by the influential Armenian community in the European Union.

At the same time, Yerevan and Paris are linked by the agreements in the defense sphere signed by the military authorities of both countries in 2010, however, the French party never undertook special commitments in terms of rendering military support to Armenia. 

France is actively using its «soft power» arsenal in Armenia promoting projects in the education sphere. In particular, the agreement between the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Armenia and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the French Republic promoting French language studies in Armenian educational institutions was signed on 18 March 2011; and the agreement between the Government of the Republic of Armenia and the Government of the French Republic about establishing a French university in Armenia was signed on 8 March 2017.

On 28 May 2018, i.e., after the success of the «velvet revolution», the two countries signed the agreement on establishing the French Agency for Development and Cooperation in Armenia, which is viewed as one of the greatest importance from the Paris influence standpoint. Further on, on 18 November 2022, Armenia signed an Agreement with the French Agency for International Development on receiving EUR 100 mln within the joint budget support program «Fiscal Stability and Financial Markets Development». [6]

Analyzing open sources speaking about the objective of these funds allocation, allows for conclusion about the French party actively funding Armenia in the sphere of «public finance management improvement», as well as in «developing the strategic framework for switching to the green economy». Various training projects for government officials are stipulated, as well as development and implementation of laws and regulations with the assistance of the French specialists. In fact, it is about Paris penetrating deep into the finance and energy sectors of Armenia, where the «green» ideas are still being promoted despite the cooperation with Gazprom and Rosatom. As of today, it is difficult to assess the effect of the French funding on the regulatory framework in the sphere of public finance and environmental management improvement, but we may state already that the positions of France in the Armenian public sector continue to strengthen, even though the French funding is provided on the basis of loans, not as gratuitous subsidies or grants.

Practically simultaneously with signing the above-mentioned agreement, the French Senate on November 25 adopted the resolution calling the government «to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh territory». 305 senators voted in support of this resolution, and only 1 voted against. «I am very proud of todays vote in the Senate, when 305 senators out of 306 call the government to recognize the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic», twitted Bruno Retailleau, the author of the draft resolution and a well-known lobbyist of Armenian interests. In his turn, Nikol Pashinyan called this decision of the French senate a historic one. «Recognition of Artsakh becomes a part of the international agenda», the Armenian leader stated. [7]

It should be noted that the Resolution of the French Senate, despite being anti-Azerbaijanian, is of a declarative character and not binding. The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs demonstrated negative reaction to the initiative of the senators and refused to recognize independence of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. According to Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, the States Secretary of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, unilateral recognition of the separatists regime on behalf of France «would not be useful for anyone».

This assessment by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs looks quite adequate as the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is not recognized by any states at all. It is noteworthy that Armenia itself, despite its policy focused on legalizing the separatists, does not recognize their regime officially.

Hence, the Resolution of the French Senate has no legal force whatsoever and, in essence, has no practical sense from the practically announced outcome standpoint, i.e., the independence of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. At the same time, it is obvious that the instigative activity of the French senators, their interference into domestic affairs of Azerbaijan coupled with public exultation of Pashinyan in social media hamper the peaceful settlement process and does not contribute to increasing the level of trust between Baku and Yerevan.

Actually, this is another demonstration of the destructive policy of the collective West in the South Caucasus, when false hopes are given to the Armenian side in the form of commitment-free pretty gestures and posturing (declarations of support, high-level visits, resolutions, etc.). In fact, all this «white noise» results in undermining the peaceful settlement process and elicits appropriately negative response by Azerbaijan, who is rightfully demanding that Armenia should abide by the provisions of the Tri-lateral Agreement dated 10 November 2020 and follow-up high-level agreements.

At the same time, talking about such unanimous «solidarity» of the French senators on the issue of supporting the separatists in the Nagorno-Karabakh territory, we cannot disregard the factor of very high influence of Armenian community in France (accounting for half a million people, according to some estimates). [8] Some sources even talk about a higher number from 750 thousand to 1 million people. Their political center is the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) a non-commercial organization active in more than 30 countries. To understand the lobbyist capacities of AGBU it should be noted that in 1998 the National Assembly of France approved the bill about recognizing the «genocide» of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire; after that there were a number of attempts to criminalize the denial of the «genocide» of the Armenians similar to the denial of Holocaust.

In analyzing the underlying motives of the Resolution by the French Senate we need to account for the factor of the billionaire Ruben Vardanyan, who in September 2022 announced his decision to renounce his Russian citizenship and to relocate from Moscow to the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, where he was to head the separatists government. In 2000, Vardanyan participated in the training organized by INSEAD (European Business Management Institute, France), he has far-flung network of contacts in the French and European business and political circles. It is noteworthy that in the context of his relocation to Karabakh Ruben Vardanyan made a statement about his intent «to explain to influential people from various countries our activities to assure security and development of Artsakh». He also announced his participation in some «private events in France» to plan the meetings that could «make an important contribution to our common cause». [9]

With this regard, it should be noted that numerous charges were put forward against Vardanyan, and the most high-profile one was the investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) called «Troika Laundromat» published in March 2019. [10] Based on the fact of this scandalous publication, 22 members of the European Parliament signed an open letter to Jean-Claude Juncker, then the President of the European Commission, with the request to assist in investigation with respect to Ruben Vardanyan, however, that story had no criminal or legal implications.

Based on the above, there is an opinion that the pro-Armenian sentiment of the French top political circles may be explained not only by the influence of the Armenian lobby, but may also be incentivized financially by the Armenian community in France.

Conclusion

The French policy in the South Caucasus is generally in line with the common course of the collective West targeted at interference with the negotiation process with the ultimate purpose not as much as to settle the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but rather to compromise the mediating role of Russia.

The trade and economic cooperation of Yerevan and Paris is immaterial and has no special value for the economies of both countries. At the same time, the Armenian leaders have an increased focus on developing special relations with France, these approaches are confirmed by a number of visits at the top and high levels, and are also fixed in the doctrinal documents of the Armenian state.

France is actively using its «soft power» to influence the situation in Armenia, where its main interests lie in the state finance administration and in the banking sector. The French Agency for Development and Cooperation is the key operator of the French influence in Armenia, and there is a special inter-government agreement between the two countries regulating its activities.

The French Senate Resolution dated 25 November 2022, calling the government to «officially recognize the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh territory» being a mere political declaration, received negative response by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and will not be implemented into practice by official Paris.

The good feelings of some French politicians with respect to Yerevan are underpinned by influential Armenian community in France and by the lobbyist activities of some major Armenian business representatives headed by an especially prominent figure of the billionaire Ruben Vardanyan announcing his far-reaching political ambitions.

In practical terms, various political statements by the French parliamentary members including the Resolution by the French Senate on Karabakh are not binding for the French government. Paris is not responsible for assuring security to Armenia.

At the same time, the irresponsible actions by the French Senate hampered the peace-building process based on the Tri-lateral Agreement dated 9 November 2020 and on the follow-up agreements. Such slowdown in the preparation for the peace treaty execution on behalf of the Armenian leaders (illusively counting on the support by the Western countries, mainly by the USA and France) increases the risk of resuming combat activities in the region. In the light of the above, the role of France, given all its external attractiveness in the current emotional moment, is eventually destructive and damaging the interests of Russian people.

1. Exclusive interview by Ararat Mirzoyan, the Foreign Affairs Minister of Armenia, to the Armenpress Information Agency. ARMENPRESS, 28.11.2022. https://armenpress.am/rus/news/1098331.html

2. The world is not limited by CSTO: Marukyan about the balanced policy of Armenia. V Contact, 26.11.2022. https://vk.com/wall-17452458_283052?ysclid=lb3armqx8h766409521

3. National Security Strategy of the Republic of Armenia. https://www.gov.am/ru/National-Security-Strategy/

4. The ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia. Bi-lateral relations. France https://www.mfa.am/ru/bilateral-relations/fr

5. Foreign trade turnover of Armenia in 2021 grew by 17.7% exceeding USD 8.3 bn. Russia, China and Iran are among the leaders. ARKA NEWS Agency, 08.02.2022. https://arka.am/ru/news/economy/vneshnetorgovyy_oborot_armenii_v_2021_godu_vyros_na_17_7_prevysiv_8_3_mlrd_v_chisle_liderov_rossiya_/

6. Armenia received EUR 100 mln facility of the French Agency for Development and Cooperation. TASS, 18.11.2022. https://tass.ru/ekonomika/16365711?ysclid=lb3le3rvht183619044

7. The French Senate adopted the Resolution about recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh territory. RBC, 25.11.2022. https://www.rbc.ru/politics/25/11/2020/5fbe94bb9a794747c49c3128?ysclid=lb3mhko7ux494716699

8. The Armenians of France. Moscow State University analytical center. https://web.archive.org/web/20100925042044/http:/ia-centr.ru/expert/8941/

9. Ruben Vardanyan announced his plans for scheduled meeting in France on Artsakh  issue. Armenia Today, 03.09.2022. https://armeniatoday.news/republicofartsakh-ru/521912/

10. Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. The Troika Laundromat. 19.03.2019. https://www.occrp.org/en/troikalaundromat/