The current French president’s political ambitions threaten EU energy security amid a sanctions war against Russia.
Support for pro-Russian Armenian separatists plays to strengthen atrocious regimes in both Russia and Iran and opens up the second front in the South Caucasus.
The Russian military aggression in Ukraine has resulted in an unprecedented consolidation of European countries since the Second World War. Europe has spoken with one voice against Putin’s regime and has taken difficult steps to impose sanctions on Russia, including at the expense of its own interests, especially in the field of energy security. However, is this consolidation to last?
Azerbaijan, a major player state in the South Caucasus, has become a key player in ensuring EU energy security amid the sanctions war with Russia. This has led to a second (and largely unnoticed) front opening up in the region – but this time France, one of the pillars of the European Union, sided with the enemy, joining forces with two major threats to the civilised world at once: Russia and Iran.
So what exactly happened?
On 27 June, at a meeting with representatives of the Armenian community in Marseilles, president Macron said he was putting more pressure on Azerbaijani President Aliyev than Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan: “I am the only one who has a clear position and message on the issue of Artsakh” (the name pro-Russian Armenian separatists call their enclave in Azerbaijani Karabakh). He emphasised that “France has for the first time sent its military attaché to its embassy in Armenia”. “We will do our best!”, he promised.
In layman’s terms, this means that Macron has promised support – including, apparently, military support – to pro-Russian Armenian separatists in Azerbaijan, a country that provides energy supplies to Europe and, since the start of the war, supplies fuel free of charge to the Ukrainian army.
This is despite the fact that even the Armenian prime minister has already recognised Karabakh as legitimate Azerbaijani territory and, at least rhetorically, has expressed an interest in resolving the conflict in the South Caucasus. However, there are two other players who, on the contrary, are interested in provoking a full-scale conflict in the region: Moscow and Tehran.
Moscow’s motives are clear: it relies on pro-Russian separatists to put pressure on Baku and force President Aliyev to make concessions by reducing or cutting off energy supplies to Europe. This would give Putin additional leverage to blackmail the European Union into reconsidering its financial and military aid to Ukraine.
Tehran also has vital interests in the South Caucasus. The founding of independent Azerbaijan after the collapse of the USSR gave rise to a growing national consciousness of the largest ethnic minority living in Iran: the South Azerbaijani Turks.
Over the past 30 years the ayatollah regime has steadily increased pressure on the Iranian Azeris, seeking their complete assimilation. This led to mass protests; the situation exploded in the winter of 2023, when riots in Tabriz, the capital of the Azeri Turks, escalated and threatened, amid widespread political protests across the country, to destabilize the regime and cause the ruling elite to lose control of the country.
Against this background, Iran, which traditionally supports Armenia in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, is interested in diverting Baku’s attention as much as possible to its own problems. Moreover, the strong alliance that has emerged in recent years between Azerbaijan and Israel, Tehran’s main strategic enemy in the region, has become a major pain in the neck for the ayatollahs.
Recognising these threats to the EU and Ukraine, as well as to the South Caucasus and the Middle East, Brussels and Washington are making titanic efforts to prevent the conflict in the South Caucasus from escalating. But these considerations have not stopped President Macron, whose Gaullist ambitions run counter to the interests of his European Union partners.
Spurred on by ultra-nationalists from the Armenian diaspora in France, Macron is ready to play into the hands of Putin and the ayatollahs, just to prove the right of the French Republic to conduct an independent foreign policy – independent of common sense, among other things. In other words, to shoot himself in the foot in pursue of a hollow political ambition.
It is not just words of support, in May, several Ukrainian outlets and the state television channel of Moldova reported on the upcoming supplying of French weapons to Armenia, emphasising that “Western military equipment supplied to Yerevan could be used by Russians to counter the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ counteroffensive. This is apparent, considering the close military cooperation between Yerevan and Moscow.”
Unsurprisingly, the mainstream European and US media have lashed out at Macron:
– The Wall Street Journal: “France is home to a large Armenian community. Thanks to its influence and to Mr. Macron’s penchant for idiosyncratic initiatives on the international stage, Paris has taken positions that, on balance, strengthen the Russian and Iranian game in the South Caucasus.”
– The Jewish Press: “Why are the French joining forces with Iran and Russia? Due to the considerable Diaspora, Armenia has a formidable lobby with significant influence in Europe, especially in France. One may ponder why the Armenians in France push for pro-Russian and pro-Iranian decisions. May it be that Russians are influencing this Diaspora?”
– i24: “The main supporter of the military-political decision of Paris regarding the sending of weapons to Armenia was President Emmanuel Macron himself.”
– EuToday: “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.”
Direktno: “French politicians who support Armenian puppet separatists in Karabakh are actually helping Putin in the South Caucasus.”
Macron’s ambition could be a serious threat to the West’s unified policy towards Russia and Iran. Domestically, he has already demonstrated time and again that he is indifferent to everything but his own interests: even now, amid violent unrest in burning French cities, he is busy pushing his own agenda. Well, if the French are ready to accept that Paris is well worth a mass, the rest of Europeans do not have to follow the lead.