PARIS (Reuters) – France is helping Armenia to improve its air defence capacity with the sale of three radars and an agreement on the future delivery of Mistral anti-air missiles, Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu said on Monday.
The move comes weeks after Armenia’s arch regional foe Azerbaijan retook the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in a lightning offensive, prompting the exodus of most of the territory’s 120,000 ethnic Armenian residents.
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev said this month that France’s decision to send military aid to Armenia could trigger a new conflict in the South Caucasus.
“The protection of the sky is something that’s absolutely key,” Lecornu said during a joint news conference with Armenia’s Defence Minister Suren Papikyan in Paris.
The two ministers signed off on the sale of three Thales-made GM 200 radars, which France has also provided to Ukraine, and signed a memorandum of understanding on the future delivery of France’s Mistral short-range air defence system.
France will also help Armenia train ground defence forces and support the country’s efforts to reform and modernise its military, Lecornu said.
It was Papikyan’s second visit to France since Azerbaijani forces on Sept. 20 captured Nagorno-Karabakh, which is internationally viewed as part of Azerbaijan but had been run by ethnic Armenians since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
France hosts one of the world’s largest Armenian diasporas and seeks to present itself as an ally and diplomatic backer, especially as Yerevan’s relations with its traditional ally Russia have soured in recent months.
“We stand by our defence relationship (with Armenia), even though we’re not part of the same military and political alliances. It is based on the simple principle that you need to be able to defend yourself,” Lecornu said.
Papkiyan’s visit to Paris coincided with talks in Tehran between the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan, aimed at making progress towards a peace agreement between them. The foreign ministers of Iran, Russia and Baku’s ally Turkey also attended the talks.
(Reporting by Felix Light, Tassilo Hummel; Editing by Gareth Jones)