Particularly after its most recent war with Azerbaijan, Armenia has found itself isolated, lacking support from treaty ally Russia but without great options to replace Moscow as security guarantor. France, however, has made strides to deepen its relationship with Yerevan, announcing several arms deals in recent weeks and, over the weekend, delivering ACMAT Bastion armored personnel carriers (APCs) to the southern Caucasus country.
According to reports in regional media, France delivered 21 Bastion APCs to Armenia on Sunday. Contract details have not been made public, but these are reportedly from the same group of 24 Bastions that were originally pledged to Ukraine.
The APC delivery comes as France aims to upgrade Armenia’s air-defense capabilities, as well. Late last month, during a visit to France, Armenian Defense Minister Suren Papikyan inked a contract for the purchase of three Thales GM 200 radars. The two sides also inked a memorandum of understanding that should lead to a sale of Mistral short-range air-defense systems. Given that the Bastions were already produced, the contract for them may have been signed at this time, as well.
One interesting wrinkle to the APC delivery is that it was apparently delivered via the Georgian port of Poti. This development was initially revealed in Azeri media (Caliber.Az), which highlighted the logistics, claiming that Tbilisi has previously blocked arms shipments from France to Armenia from transiting its territory.
RFE/RL’s Georgian language service later obtained a statement from APM Terminals Poti, confirming the delivery through the port.
“In this particular case, the cargo was received from the EU country, France, and sent to Armenia, a country on which sanctions do not apply. In addition, in the absence of clear instructions and restrictions from the Government of Georgia, APM Terminals Poti is deprived of the chance to unreasonably refuse to accept cargo.” — APM Terminals Poti
Baku swiftly issued a condemnation of the Bastion transfer, asserting that the delivery is adding to “destabilization of the situation” in the region. The Azeri government further called on the international community to refrain from arming the Armenian military.
Armenian rearmament follows several recent defeats in wars against Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, whose former government was backed by Armenia until its defeat in September. Three years ago, Azeri troops launched an offensive into Nagorno-Karabakh that, over six weeks, captured about half of the breakaway republic’s territory, including key heights overlooking the region’s capital. Russian mediation brought the conflict to a standstill, but, with Moscow’s attention consumed in Ukraine, Azerbaijan rekindled the war on September 19, forcing the Karabakh government to capitulate within a day.
In the wake of the war, Armenia has been concerned that Azeri ambitions do not end at its borders. The Armenian province of Syunik separates Azerbaijan from its exclave Nakhchivan, and Yerevan fears that Azerbaijan seeks to forcibly create the ‘Zangezur corridor’ linkage to connect to the exclave. Azerbaijan, for its part, denies having any ambitions for Armenian territory.
A senior foreign policy adviser to Azeri President Ilham Aliyev told Reuters on October 25 that, if talks with Armenia fail, Baku could instead negotiate with Iran about opening an economic corridor to Nakhchivan, rather than pursue military options. “Azerbaijan had no plans to seize Zangezur,” the adviser, Hikmet Hajiyev, said.
Should that prove false, Armenia lacks the allies to defend it, as the CSTO has been conspicuously absent during the recent wars with Azerbaijan, even prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Thus Yerevan has been attempting to rebuild its own capacity, ramping up defense spending and acquiring what armaments it can from sympathetic partners.