The French Senate and National Assembly promptly adopted anti-Azerbaijani resolutions calling on the government to recognize the independence of Nagorno Karabakh and to apply sectoral (on the energy sector) and personal sanctions.
It should be remembered that during the 44-day war France tried to stop the liberation of the occupied territories by raising the issue before the UN Security Council and applying pressures on Azerbaijan through European structures. After official Baku rejected French mediation, the separatist leader was invited to Paris, where he met with senators and gave a wide-ranging interview to a pro-government television channel.
Note that leaders of parties represented in the Senate have recently offered a proposal to President Emmanuel Macron to conduct an armed incursion into the Nagorno-Karabakh region in order to expel Azerbaijan. These actions showed that France is not interested in addressing the conflict, and supports the separatism of Armenians in Khankendi.
The present article pursues an aim to find out why France adheres to this course, whether it is due to subjective factors or fits into its system of foreign policy priorities.
Note that I categorically disagree with the opinion of our authoritative experts, who explain this as being due to efforts of the Armenian lobby. This approach takes us away from the real causes of the phenomenon, enhances capabilities of our enemy, and thereby deprives us of the opportunity to get out of the situation and neutralize France.
First of all, it’d be appropriate to take a look at France’s foreign policy. Let’s try to find out how it was acting in similar cases, what objectives it was pursuing, and then compare the results of the analysis with its policy towards Azerbaijan. Only in that case it is possible to find an answer to the question: How to correctly counteract the policy of France?
As is known, present-day France was founded by General Charles de Gaulle, who led the Provisional Government during the World War II and became President of the French Republic in the post-war years.
At that, he outlined the contours of France’s foreign policy which subsequent Presidents followed with slight modifications. De Gaulle’s foreign policy, called Gaullism, was based on the doctrine of French national independence and greatness, born in the process of shedding the layers of the past. It’d be appropriate to note here that France as the first strong and dominant civilized Christian state and the leading empire that had a very strong influence on neighboring countries, both politically and culturally.
In particular, the Great French Revolution generated liberalism and put an end to many feudal or traditional laws and practices. Suffice it to recall that the great cultural influence of France manifested itself in the fact that before the War of 1812, the Russian aristocracy spoke French at the court of the Russian emperors. From this standpoint, de Gaulle’s desire to restore France to its former greatness therefore seems natural.
The idea of “the grandeur of France”, advanced by Charles de Gaulle, appealed to French national pride and involved France in the solution of major international problems. The main objective of France’s foreign policy was to establish itself as a world power, capable of effectively defending its interests on the international stage and acting as an actor whenever possible. Hence, France could not remain aloof from the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and President Jacques Chirac’s aspirations for a seat in the OSCE Minsk Group fitted seamlessly into Paris’ foreign policy.
One of the factors encouraging the French to awaken activity in the Caucasus region is its traditional anti-Anglo-Saxon orientation. France has no interest in strengthening the Anglo-American tandem in the South Caucasus from weakening the Russian influence standpoint. This rivalry has a long history, and its geography spans the entire world.
In particular, it began when King Charles IV of France died in 1328, leaving no sons, and King Edward III of England, as the son of his sister, laid claims to the French throne. In spite of the fact that his claim was rejected, and Philip VI, Charles’ closest male relative, became king, Edward’s claim to the title of king of France led to the outbreak of the Hundred Years’ War between the two kingdoms in 1337. This was followed by the wars in North America for possession of the colonies (17-18 centuries), the war of the Spanish succession (1701-1714), the Anglo-French war (1778-1783) for supremacy in the English Channel, the Mediterranean Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the West Indies.
Throughout the 1990s, Britain and France competed in the colonial division of Africa.
It has to be kept in mind that Britain played a leading role in the defeat of Napoleon. Thus, it supplied the Russian army with various armaments, and the combined forces at Waterloo were commanded by a British general.
Recall that this rivalry is ongoing today as well.
During the Second World War, Winston Churchill stated that the Provisional Government led by General Charles de Gaulle was no friend of Britain.
In 1963, Charles de Gaulle began to criticize the US policy in Asia increasingly open. Suffice it to say that in 1964 France recognized the Chinese People’s Republic (Americans in 1974 only).
In 1965, Paris withdrew its representatives from the US-led military-political bloc SEATO, which had served as a support for the Americans in the war against Vietnam. The demand for completion of the American intervention in Vietnam has since become a constant element of French foreign policy.
One of the metamorphoses of Paris’ foreign policy was the reorientation of France’s Middle East policy towards supporting Arab countries as opposed to the Americans supporting Israel. The French further attempted to become the main mediator in the Arab-Israeli negotiations, but this did not work out. As a matter of fact, France totally lost out in the Middle East region to the Americans.
During a tour of 16 Latin American countries in 1964, Charles de Gaulle criticized U.S. policy everywhere, which enraged the White House. The dissatisfaction turned into irritation when he did not find time to visit the United States, even though President Kennedy was waiting to see him.
In 1966, France withdrew from the military organization of NATO, while remaining a member of the political structure. The country intended to implement Charles de Gaulle’s policy of returning France to great power status, which provided for resolving its colonial problems, developing its own nuclear weapons, and breaking its military, economic and financial dependence on the United States.
It was no mere coincidence that France supported the guerrillas in El Salvador and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, whom Washington believed to be its enemies. In October 1983, in solidarity with Moscow, France strongly condemned the US invasion of Grenada to overthrow the leftist government that had come to power in a coup.
Also, in 2003, France refused to participate in the military operation against Iraq to overthrow the Saddam Hussein regime. This demarche by Paris was painfully received not only by the establishment but also by ordinary Americans. They could not understand why a country that had twice (during World War I and II) been liberated from occupation, at the cost of American soldiers’ lives, refused to help when the US needed it. In protest, the Americans declined from French goods.
It ought to be noted that in the beginning of the Russia’s war against Ukraine, France’s position, unlike that of the US and Britain, which demanded a return to the borders before 24 February, was not clear and precise. It offered to resolve the issue through negotiations, which was to the advantage of the aggressor that occupied 20% of the Ukrainian territory. Such a policy is quite in accord with the anti-Anglo-Saxon policy of Paris. The defeat of the Russian Federation does not benefit France, as it strengthens the US, and Paris loses a partner in the confrontation with Washington.
Also, Paris has constantly taken steps to oppose the influence of the US economy in Europe and worldwide. In 1965, Charles de Gaulle decided to deal a blow to the power of the dollar by questioning its monetary privileges and leading to a restructuring of the international monetary system (as Putin seeks to do today). In order to return to the gold standard, on January 7, 1965, the Banque de France put forward demands to the American treasury to exchange a part of the French dollar reserves for gold.
With the help of European structures, France attempted to counteract the penetration of American goods into the European market.
The aforementioned testify to the fact that France’s policy towards Azerbaijan is aligned with its anti-Anglo-Saxon policy. The country is not interested in the Anglo-American tandem in the region, and especially in Azerbaijan, growing stronger against the backdrop of a weakening Russia. That is why France stepped up when Yerevan, having become closer to Washington, was ready to accept the American settlement plan, which also met Azerbaijan’s interests. If that had happened, Armenia could withdraw from Russian influence and move under the American umbrella, which is contrary to French interests. That’s why France, acting in the interests of Russia and against the interests of Washington, started binding Armenia to itself by adopting the abovementioned resolutions and other preferences. So far, it has succeeded in failing the adoption of the American plan.
In an attempt to counterbalance the growing strategic influence of the US in the world, France pursued a policy of rapprochement with the USSR, and at present it is closer to Russia. Account has to be taken of the fact that France has historically maintained good relations with Russia which was a mainland empire and became a member of the European club much later. Therefore, its interests did not overlap with those of France. Besides, Russia had constantly rivaled with Great Britain and the United States. Here, the interests of Moscow and Paris were fully aligned.
Worthy of note is the fact that the basic line of Putin’s foreign policy, sovereignty and independence from the United States is practically identical to the strategic line of French foreign policy. This identity facilitates the foreign policy partnership between these countries.
This is how General de Gaulle characterized the French-Russian relations: “For France and Russia to be united means to be strong; to be divided means to be in danger. This is indeed an immutable condition from geography and common sense standpoint. De Gaulle was convinced that a partnership with the greatest power on the planet would help realize an idea of reviving the “Grandeur of France”. Note that de Gaulle’s successors continued this line.
In 2014, at the height of the anti-Russian campaign by Western countries, former French President Valérie Giscard d’Estaing visited Moscow as saying that sanctions against Russia “are not in the interests of Europe and are contrary to international law”. The politician recalled that Crimea had belonged to Russia centuries ago.
In so doing, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing persuaded the Western countries to help restore Russia’s membership in the G-8. He actually condoned the annexation of Crimea contrary to all international laws and rules.
Below is an excerpt from a letter of Soviet Ambassador Mashkov to the wife of W. J. d’Estaing on the occasion of his death: “Under conditions of geopolitical turmoil of recent years, it was from his side that we met understanding and support for our actions in defense of the interests of compatriots and historical justice”.
As is seen, Giscard d’Estaing actually backed Putin in restoration of “historical justice”.
It has to be kept in mind that Giscard d’Estaing was the only Western European leader who maintained personal contacts with Brezhnev after the Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan, and opposed the imposition of anti-Soviet sanctions.
It was no mere coincidence that this line was continued by François Mitterrand. In the summer of 1982 he did not yield to the US demand to withdraw from building a gas pipeline from the USSR to Western Europe in response to the imposition of martial law in Poland.
Nor did Mitterrand support the American “strategic defense initiative” program, aimed at triggering arms race with the USSR that Moscow could not match. It was he who was President of France when it condemned the US invasion of Grenada.
At that, the relationship between France and the USSR on the international scene was so close that Zbigniew Brzezinski, in an interview with “Le Figaro” in the summer of 1990, described France and the USSR as a pair of major Cold War losers. It is therefore not surprising that France’s actions are not at odds with Russian interests. Like Russia, France supports the Armenian aggression.
In turn, Mitterrand feared that Germany’ unification could lead to the latter’ becoming too strong and thus undermining its plans to maintain its political leadership in Europe. To prevent such a development Mitterrand negotiated with the United States, Britain, Poland and the USSR. It ought to be noted that this is not for the first time that France has fought against German unification. France had historically resisted the unification of the German states into a single Germany, which it saw as a threat to its leadership. As a consequence, relations between the two countries were hostile. There were several Franco-Prussian wars. One of them ended with the defeat of France and the establishment of the German Reich.
Added to the above can be that France is against the emergence of strong states not only in continental Europe. Hence France’s negative attitude to the rise of Turkey and its love for the Armenians. It was France that largely opposed Turkey’ joining the EU, for Ankara could become Paris’ rival in European structures. The resolution of the Karabakh issue in favor of Azerbaijan strengthens the Azeri-Turkish tandem not only in the Caucasus region, but also where French and Turkish interests clash, such as in the Mediterranean.
There is a further point to be made is that Nicolas Sarkozy, who came to power under the slogan of strengthening Atlantic ties, had to adjust his election program during his Presidency. Far from being a Gaullist, Sarkozy had advocated a post-Cold War multipolar system of international relations. Granting this, France is finding the support of the Russian Federation.
One of the factors that prompted the President to change his rhetoric towards Russia was economic pragmatism. The French are the second largest investor in Russia. Suffice it to say that French companies have opened 106,000 jobs. They are the leader in the Russian market by this index. French companies are very closely integrated into the Russian energy sector. Trade turnover between France and Russia is about $20 billion.
It stands to mention that the policy of official Baku to neutralize France by expanding trade relations could not reach its goal. The government intended to purchase naval equipment worth over 3 billion euros. In considering that the Azerbaijani-French trade turnover is $0.6 billion, it is unable to compete with French interests in the Russian market. There are proposals of some experts to start the procedure of “Total”s withdrawal from the Azerbaijani market as a lever of pressure. However, the French economy is unlikely to suffer from this while the international litigation and various lawsuits may hurt Azerbaijan.
It is worth remembering that even Turkey with its large market, having launched a boycott campaign against French goods and pursuing a policy of refusing state orders to French companies at a time when relations between the two countries were at their lowest, failed to achieve hoped-for results.
One must bear in mind that Nicolas Sarkozy’s Presidency, as well as France’s co-chairmanship of the European Union, coincided with the Georgian-Ossetian conflict which escalated into a Russian-Georgian war. This war changed the atmosphere of relations between the West and Russia. At an EU emergency meeting on 1 September 2008, concern was expressed over the invasion of Georgia and Russia’s decision to formally recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia which had been deemed unacceptable. The EU initially threatened Russia to suspend its strategic partnership in order to force it to make peace with Georgia. However, the Europeans refrained from imposing economic sanctions on Russia and from meeting the demands of the “New Europe” countries, supporting a policy of continued cooperation with Moscow within the framework of a good neighborhood policy with the EU. This position became possible largely thanks to the French Presidency of the EU.
In due time, Nicolas Sarkozy took on the role of mediator in the crisis between Russia and Georgia, placing the blame on Tbilisi and pointing out that a military intervention had taken place on Tbilisi’s part. The result was the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan, which had been accepted by all parties to the conflict. Many have called the agreement a victory for France. It was obvious that France acted with Russian interests in mind, not with European or Georgian ones. So it decided that it could attain results in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict as well, so it stepped up its actions. France interfered in the negotiations between Baku and Yerevan, accusing Baku of carrying out military operations on the territory of Armenia, i.e. interference, acting in the interests of Armenia and the separatists. It is safe to say that France’s approach to the Karabakh issue is identical to the Georgian one; however, unlike the Georgian scenario, it was rejected by Azerbaijan.
That said, Sarkozy opposed the provision of the action plan for the membership of Georgia and Ukraine in NATO thereby satisfying Russia’s objections, as he believed that the European security could not be comprehensive without Moscow’s participation therein. To our thinking, this is not the only reason for France’s attitude towards the new young independent states. It is France’s alleged greatness that does not allow it to build horizontal ties with the young independent states: it fears their formation and subsequent strengthening. According to the French conception, the great powers must deal with the great powers only. This is emphasized by French analysts as well. Thus, the renowned French analyst Nathalie Nougerede pointed out that “Jacques Chirac’s diplomacy has tended to slight, sometimes with a hint of contempt, the countries of the European East” in the name of the French-Russian dialogue. Regretfully, France’s contempt for Azerbaijan became quite overt, as the Azerbaijanis showed an inflexible will to defend their interests, which called into question the importance and greatness of France. Thus, former President, Nicolas Sarkozy said about Crimea: “If the people of Crimea chose Russia, we cannot reproach them”. Moreover, Sarkozy drew a parallel between Crimea and Kosovo, whose recognition of independence is not questioned in the West. After his Presidency, Sarkozy remained the leader of the Republicans. With his approval, 10 French parliamentarians visited Crimea after its annexation to the Russian Federation.
Therefore, the visits of French politicians to Khankendi should not be assessed as something out of the ordinary: it is a systematic approach of French foreign policy aimed at supporting separatism. Below cited is a pattern to this approach that is in the interests of Paris:
– Countries in which this happens become vulnerable and weak;
– Separatists need support to achieve their goal.
At that, Paris skillfully exploits this circumstance to dominate and demonstrate its greatness. It is worth citing that France supports separatism not only in the CIS space but all over the world. It is the main inspiration for the movement of the ethnic French of Quebec who want to secede from Canada. De Gaulle visited Quebec during his trip to Canada. Speaking to ethnic French people, he exclaimed “Long live a free Quebec!”
All things considered, France was very active on the Kosovo issue. It was involved in all major initiatives and played a key role in bringing the Kosovo settlement under EU auspices and, in parallel, continues to exert pressure on the conflicting parties.
The current French President is also doing his part to diminish the role of the US in Europe. Emmanuel Macron urged Europe to rely less on the US in security matters and provide Russia with security guarantees as a part of the negotiations to end the war in Ukraine. This was reported by the “Wall Street Journal”.
The French President suggested that Europeans should enhance their influence within the Alliance and develop their own defense capabilities, acting “together with NATO, but also independently of NATO”.
To sum up, we can say that France is an anti-American, pro-Russian supporter of separatism and an opponent of the emergence of new strong countries on the world map. According to such a scenario, the room for maneuver to neutralize France is limited. It is very difficult to resist the tandem of Moscow and Paris alone. And if we add to this the actions of Iran, the picture becomes very disturbing. Turkey’s support is not enough to counteract this triumvirate. To protect itself from these risks, Azerbaijan has no choice but to get closer to a country that can counteract these forces. Such country is the USA. With that consideration, it would be expedient for the government to adopt an action plan for close cooperation with Washington within a short period of time.
Shahmar Agabalayev (astna.biz)
P. S. Contributing to the preparation of this article are Russian researchers O.A. Smirnov, A.I. Afonshin and L.V. Ponomarenko.