French Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu (right) and his Armenian counterpart Suren Papikyan sign an agreement in Paris, October 23, 2023

By: K. Khodanian

Armenia and France have signed a remarkable military agreement, characterized by its unique form and substance. Such official agreements for arms sales between two nations are a rare occurrence. Typically, such transactions are shrouded in secrecy to avoid giving advantage to opposing parties or complicating relationships with other countries. However, in this case, everything has transpired in the open, initiated by France, with multiple messages in mind.

Primarily, the first message is directed towards Azerbaijan, signaling that when it concerns the sovereign territory of the Republic of Armenia, France and Europe are resolute in safeguarding the territorial integrity of a democratic nation against the threats posed by dictatorial regimes. Another message is intended for Russia, conveying that the South Caucasus is no longer exclusively under its influence, with other international actors ready to contribute to regional stability.

France is not the sole country where the defense of Armenia has become a prominent agenda item. Just last week, the Dutch parliament passed a resolution urging the government to respond positively to Armenia’s request for arms assistance. It would not be surprising if other European nations followed in the footsteps of France. This approach gained momentum following Azerbaijan’s disregard of Western countries’ appeals, launching an attack on Nagorno Karabakh, which forced Artsakh Armenians to evacuate their homeland en masse.

Shortly after the 44-day war, Armenian authorities undertook the task of reorganizing and modernizing the military. Initially, they placed their hopes in Russia, their presumed ally, to provide the necessary weaponry. To that end, a substantial sum of $400 million was transferred to the Russian side. Regrettably, the expected weaponry did not reach Armenia, nor was the sum refunded. Armenia subsequently lost precious time in fortifying its defenses, allowing Azerbaijan to infiltrate Armenian territories on multiple occasions.

It was following these events that Yerevan came to the realization that relying on Russia was a futile endeavor and began to explore alternative means of securing weaponry. Although the Armenian side remained tight-lipped about this issue, reports about the acquisition of modern weapons for Armenia began to surface in the Indian press.

The next year’s budget proposal allocates 1.4 billion dollars for the military and defense, marking it the highest budgetary commitment in independent Armenia’s history. While Azerbaijan’s military budget surpasses Armenia’s by 2.5 times, there is no doubt that a portion of that budget is susceptible to misappropriation through bribery and corruption.

All of these efforts are being undertaken years too late. Previous administrations were busy looting the country’s resources thus ignoring Azerbaijan’s substantial armament, which disrupted the military equilibrium between the two nations.

The rebuilding of the Armenian military is currently on the right track. The French side not only discussing arms sales but also is committed to assisting Armenia in training its ground defense forces and supporting its efforts to modernize and reform the armed forces.

The historic arms agreement between Armenia and France is the outcome of Yerevan’s bipolar foreign policy in recent years. It provides a more dependable guarantee for the protection of borders and sovereignty in the wake of the failure of its traditional ally Russia.

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