While on the other side are the allies of Russia, consisting of CSTO-member states, Iran, and more singular supporters in regions where Russia maintains influence. However, one country keeps playing off of both sides, having in mind its own somewhat bizarre agenda.
This country is none other than France, allying itself with CSTO-member Armenia and maintaining relations with Russia while keeping up the facade of a united front with NATO against Moscow and its allies.
One shouldn’t present such allegations without proof. Luckily, proof of Paris, Yerevan and Moscow’s friendship has been covered by several credible outlets, raising alarms in many countries with vested interest against Russia and its sphere of influence.
Firstly, Kyiv, the current spearpoint of the anti-Russia coalition, is concerned with the idea of a Western country like France getting in touch with Russia during this tumultuous time, considering the former’s reputation and history with the Kremlin in the military sphere.
It is no secret that Russian military technology is considered a downgrade from Western contemporaries, which is why Russia has been importing French-made Catherine FC thermal imaging devices from the French company Thales to implement in the sighting system of its main battle tanks, the Sosna-U, even after it had been sanctioned in 2014, following the annexation of Crimea.
Yet this is old news, and nowadays the situation is much more serious: Paris decided to supply military equipment to Armenia – 50 APCs were reported thus far. Which, according to Israeli, European and Ukrainian outlets without any doubt will end up in both Russian and most probably Iranian hands. US-based international security think-tank Global Security Review also mentioned the possibility of striking a deal regarding the delivery of French Mistral air-defence missile systems in the future.
What is making France adjust its foreign policy towards a course which would eventually lead it to a collision with other partners? To answer that, one must dive into the nature of the relationship between France and Armenia – the only CSTO member state which, as a recent survey by the International Republic Institute notes, sees France, as well as Russia and Iran, as its main security partners.
French senate tries to embargo Azerbaijani energy exports to the EU.
Armenians have a large diaspora in many Western countries. Two of the largest hubs are the US and France. Unsurprisingly, the Armenian diaspora holds a lot of influence, particularly in France. Pro-Armenian sentiment is easy to spot in French foreign politics, considering that back in November 2022, the French Senate passed a resolution to impose sanctions and an embargo on Azerbaijan and its energy exports to the EU.
The French agenda in the Caucasus arena is in line with the policy of Yerevan, opposing Baku and its allies. A year prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, French government consultants put forward initiatives to form a Franco-Russian alliance in order to jointly “contain” the Turkish “threat” in the South Caucasus – that is, to prevent the final restoration of Azerbaijan’s sovereignty in Karabakh.
On December 11, 2020, geopolitical consultant Pierre-Emmanuel Thomann presented this concept on the analytical expert website Le Journal TransAlpin. The idea of such a “regional union” was put forward as a new tool for France to contain Turkey in the Caucasus and the Eastern Mediterranean. Russia was declared as the main potential partner, taking into account the commonality of the “Turkish threat”.
Since the early 1990s Moscow and Paris have been co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, which, for 30 years, deliberately dragged out the process of Azerbaijani-Armenian normalisation. “Russia was initially interested in freezing the conflict – the only way it can maintain influence in the South Caucasus and military bases in Armenia,” the Romanian version of Newsweek noted in May of this year.
Earlier this month, the highly respected U.S. publication The Wall Street Journal reported that: “Paris has taken a position that generally strengthens the Russian and Iranian game in the South Caucasus.” The publication noted that the regional policy of France contributes to the efforts of Iran and Russia to disrupt the negotiation process between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Ukrainian experts and officials are gravely concerned with the possibility of France helping out and advancing the positions of Russia and its allies in a region close to the theatre of war as it wouldn’t be too outlandish to assume any French material assistance to Armenia is likely to end up in Russian or Iranian hands, potentially aiding the Russian war effort in Ukraine.
Commenting on State TV of Moldova, on the supply of French weapons to Armenia, Ukrainian military expert Roman Svitan said “France, if it performs such tasks (delivery of weapons to Armenia), plays on the side of Russia.”
For France, like Russia, it is unprofitable to settle the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. It serves as a pretext for them to maintain and increase their influence in the South Caucasus. This is expressed not only in the form of political support for Yerevan but also in more tangible gains: the Russian Federation has bases in Armenia and Armenian-controlled Azerbaijani Karabakh, France opened a mission of the Ministry of Defense in Yerevan and began supplying weapons.
Back in November 2022, the Israeli outlet Hamodia noted the formation of a “bizarre alliance between France, Iran and Russia, who joined forces against Azerbaijan and Israel in the Caucasus”. In February 2023, the American media platform The Geopolitics noted “the negative influence of Paris in the region, which favours Moscow’s geopolitical goals.”
The war in Ukraine forced Paris to postpone the implementation of the concept of a “regional union” with Moscow in the Caucasus, yet this is nothing but a temporary measure to save face. The French establishment’s perception of the geopolitical balance of power condemns Paris to seek such an alliance: Germany, which maintains close ties with Turkey, which is seen as a long-term competitor within the EU, and Turkey itself is seen as a rival in the Eastern Mediterranean arena.
Nowadays, Macron tirelessly demonstrates solidarity with Ukraine, alongside other Western countries, offering military aid to Kyiv. However, Paris, unlike Kyiv, London, Warsaw or Vilnius, is not solely interested in the downfall of the Russian Federation, but is aiming at the prospect of a partnership with Moscow.
Thus, on May 14th, Macron stated: “I always said that in the future, the architecture of European security… should include the absence of confrontation with Russia… “. Six months earlier, he had noted on air on the TF1 TV channel the need to “give guarantees to Russia for its own security at the moment when it returns to the negotiating table.”
Furthermore, on September 1st 2022 the Les Echos newspaper cited Macron’s speech about the need to “keep talking” with Putin.
“We need the United States to sit down at the negotiating table to advance the peace process in Ukraine,” Macron was quoted on October 25th of the same year by Le Point newspaper.
For this, as Front Populaire reported, it is necessary that Zelensky “does not reject the request of the Russian-speaking and Russophile population in the eastern regions to join Russia.”
These quotes show that France is not interested in the victory of Ukraine, but in a general cessation of fighting, even if on Putin’s terms, regardless of the position Ukraine would be left in. This would allow Paris to not only restore a close economic partnership with Moscow, but also to return to the idea of an alliance to jointly contain Turkey, including in the Caucasus.