French minister heads to Armenia to boost bilateral support

  • World
  • Tuesday, 03 Oct 2023

FILE PHOTO: French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna speaks to the media before EU-Ukraine foreign ministers meeting, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine October 2, 2023. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo

PARIS (Reuters) - France's foreign minister travels to Armenia on Tuesday to assess the country's urgent needs as it faces a flux of refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh and the risk of Azerbaijani military operations on its territory, diplomats said.

The Nagorno-Karabakh issue is a delicate subject in Paris. A week after Baku took control of the enclave forcing more than 100,000 people to flee, lawmakers from all political spectrums have attacked the government for not doing enough to help the ethnic Armenians.

Many fear that a soft position on Nagorno-Karabakh could see Paris abandoning Armenia should the Azeris decide to go beyond its borders.

France's population includes between 400,000 to 600,000 people of Armenian origin, a powerful lobby group during election periods.

"There is a bilateral aspect, of political relations obviously, to strengthen Armenia, whose isolation everyone can see," said a French diplomatic source briefing reporters ahead Catherine Colonna's arrival in the Armenian capital Yerevan.

France, along with its Western allies, fear that Armenia and its existing government could waiver after its historical military ally, Russia, appeared to abandon it over the last few weeks.

Paris has already provided 12.5 million euros in humanitarian aid and its Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu said on Saturday that Paris was ready to provide military assistance depending on Yerevan's needs.

French officials have also backed the idea of imposing EU sanctions on Baku, but admit that there is a reluctance among several member states to do so just a year after the bloc agreed a major energy deal to replace Russian supplies.

Discussions are ongoing in Brussels. In the meantime French officials said they would work to beef up a civilian European mission alongside the border as part of efforts to deter Baku from considering further military action.

"Armenia needs security guarantees. If any country can provide it, whether it's the UK, France, the U.S., it's extremely important," said a senior Armenian diplomat ahead of Colonna's visit, the first by a Western minister since the Azeri operation.

(Reporting by John Irish; editing by Christina Fincher)

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