France, with a Cautious Approach, a Forerunner of the EU Policy towards Baku

Strategic Council Online—Interview: An expert on European affairs stated that the institutional actions of the European Union against the Republic of Azerbaijan are followed cautiously, and saying that, on the one hand, the European Union does not want to act passively regarding the Caucasus issues, but on the other hand, Europe's need for this country's gas has caused it to take cautious steps regarding the sending of military equipment to Armenia, and in this regard, all the military equipment that was made in the agreement between France and Armenia has not been sent. Only defense systems, which are very cautious and more limited than the previous agreement, have been sent.

Ebrahim Baqeri told the Strategic Council on Foreign Relations that French support for Armenia can be discussed at two institutional levels of the EU and historical, political, and cultural relations between France and Armenia, especially with the powerful Armenian community in France.

He said that in the past weeks, the European Union’s external action service published a document in which further restrictions are to be gradually considered against the Republic of Azerbaijan following the recapture of Nagorno-Karabakh by the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Stating that these restrictions were on three financial-economic, military, and political levels, he added that some countries, such as Germany, France, and the Netherlands, wanted more restrictions against the Republic of Azerbaijan. However, some countries like Austria and Hungary, regarding their relations with the Republic of Azerbaijan and gas dependencies through the Southern Corridor, wanted to provide military aid to Armenia rather than imposing more restrictions against the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Baqeri said that following these events, on October 5, the European Parliament passed a resolution with a majority of votes, in which it asked the heads of the European Union and the European Commission to impose targeted sanctions on the Republic of Azerbaijan and its officials who committed human rights violations in the Nagorno-Karabakh region and also review the relations between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the European Union.

He pointed out that the meeting of the President of the European Council, the President of France, the Chancellor of Germany, and the Prime Minister of Armenia was inconclusive due to the absence of Ilham Aliyev in Spain. He continued that the European Union is trying to impose restrictions against the Republic of Azerbaijan. But the war in Ukraine and Europe’s strong need for Azerbaijan’s gas have prevented this issue. It should not be forgotten that in July, an understanding was signed to increase Azerbaijan’s gas exports to Europe, according to which gas exports will increase from 10 billion cubic meters annually in 2022 to 20 billion cubic meters by 2027. Of course, from 2022 to 2023, this figure has reached 12 billion cubic meters per year in the southern gas corridor.

He stated that after the war in Ukraine, the European Union made investments in this corridor, which have now reached results, and noted that these issues have caused the institutional actions of the European Union against the Republic of Azerbaijan to be cautiously pursued. At the same time as these developments, the head of the European Union Commission, during his visit to the Republic of Azerbaijan, described the Republic of Azerbaijan as a vital partner for the supply of European gas in the long term and stated that the Union would make more investments to increase the capacity of the Southern Gas Corridor.

Referring to Pashinyan’s statement in the European Parliament that the Russian peacekeeping forces have tried to change the political regime of Armenia by betraying Armenia, this expert on European issues added that despite America and Europe welcoming the change of direction of Armenia towards the West, the European Union is aware of the fact that due to Armenia’s membership in the Collective Security Treaty and the Eurasian Economic Union, which is a competitor to the European Union and NATO and the economic treaties of the European Union, it may raise the level of tensions in the South Caucasus with Russia. For this reason, it tries to act at the level of political and diplomatic support and send some defense equipment through France, which has a history of historical and cultural relations with Armenia.

While referring to the visit of the French Foreign Minister to Armenia on October 11, Baqeri stated that the country’s goal is to support Armenia’s sovereignty. In this regard, along with political support, it will provide the country with the necessary defense equipment. In this meeting, it was agreed that missile defense systems, the purchase of short-range missile systems, the Master 200 radar system, and Bastion armored personnel carriers would be provided to Armenia. The basis of this agreement was a resolution approved by the French Senate with 235 votes, in which the French government was asked to condemn the Republic of Azerbaijan for the attacks against Armenia and to strengthen Armenia’s defense power.

He explained the reasons for Europe and France’s support to Armenia. He stated: In the current situation, Armenia’s presence in political and security institutions (Collective Security Treaty) and economic institutions (Eurasian Economic Union), which Russia founded, on the one hand, and the need, on the other hand, of Europe to the gas of the Republic of Azerbaijan in the southern gas corridor have caused the European Union to be more cautious in supporting Armenia and creating more restrictions for the Republic of Azerbaijan, and this issue has been entrusted to France due to the historical relations between France and Armenia.

After Russia and America, France has the largest Armenian community living in Europe. According to historical, political, and cultural relations, this country is the most important and main traditional supporter of Armenia in Europe, and the Armenian lobby in France is considered one of the main branches of the Armenian lobby in the world. Therefore, during the years after the independence of Armenia, France has played a role and influence in this country and supported Yerevan.

Baqeri stated that France is the leading player in advancing the European Union’s policy in Armenia and pointed to Baku’s protests that if another conflict occurs between Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan, France is the main responsible for it, and reminded that “It seems unlikely that the European Union, can find an alternative for the southern corridor in the short term. In addition, since 2022, it has made extensive investments in the gas fields of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Therefore, as long as the European Union depends on the energy of the Republic of Azerbaijan, it cannot take any particular action against this country.

He emphasized that, in addition, it cannot be said that France is looking to equip Armenia to the extent that it wants to create another war in the region. In addition, the European Union does not wish to act passively regarding the issues of the Caucasus. Therefore, all the equipment that was made in the agreement of the French Foreign Minister with Armenia has not been sent, and only defense systems have been sent, which are very cautious and more limited than the agreement. Considering the current situation on the ground, it does not seem that France’s goal is to prepare a war so that Armenia can retake Nagorno-Karabakh. In addition, Pashinyan has announced that he has accepted the conditions for signing the peace agreement and hopes to sign one in the near future.

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