Macron expressed his discomfort over the ceasefire negotiated by Russia this month which ended weeks of fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia and allowed Baku to consolidate important military gains.
France is, along with Russia and the United States, the co-chair of the Minsk Group of countries which, for almost three decades, have been seeking an agreement on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, a region of Azerbaijan populated by Armenians who split from Baku into a war when the USSR collapsed.
“We do not consider this ceasefire to be sufficient,” Macron said during a meeting with French Armenians over the weekend.
“It does not solve the political question and all the other problems,” he added.
Macron sharply criticized the military offensive launched by Baku at the end of September to regain control of Karabakh and in particular the support of NATO member Turkey, whom he accused of sending Syrian jihadists to fight for it. Azerbaijan.
He insisted that resolving the conflict should not be left to Russia and Turkey – who have supported the ceasefire and want its troops to be deployed in Azerbaijan – saying it must stay. in the hands of the Minsk group.
“There is a whole host of issues that cannot be settled just in a purely Turkish-Russian discussion,” Macron said.
– ‘Dead Minsk group’ –
But with Yerevan defeated militarily and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan forced to accept the unfavorable terms of the deal overseen by Russian President Vladimir Putin, France is the victim of a backlash.
As Paris has insisted on remaining neutral in the conflict, calls have increased for it to abandon its stance on the Minsk group, a deeply unpleasant suggestion as France seeks to strengthen its own international profile.
The situation was not helped by a purely symbolic resolution adopted Wednesday by the upper chamber of the French Senate – controlled by right-wing opponents of Macron – recognizing Nagorno-Karabakh as independent, a step never taken even by Yerevan.
“The Minsk Group, as it was created, is dead. Whether we like it or not, Vladimir Poutine played a masterful game and the Turks also scored, ”said Didier Billion, deputy director of the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS).
He told AFP that France is now “out of the game” after having “taken up the cause” of Armenia, even though its status as mediator made it officially neutral.
The French Armenian community numbers around 600,000 people and is also well represented in the upper echelons of politics.
– ‘Reconsider’ –
The French Foreign Ministry stressed in a statement that the recognition of Karabakh by the Senate does not reflect French policy.
But Baku summoned the French ambassador while Azerbaijani lawmakers passed a resolution calling for the expulsion of the Minsk group from Paris.
Some analysts have suggested that it would be useful for France to step down from its role, especially given its disastrous relationship with Turkey, Azerbaijan’s ally.
“France should seriously consider giving up its position of co-chair in favor of another European country or a European position,” said Thomas de Waal.
“He has been in this post for 23 years, and a country like Germany or Sweden – with more balanced relations with Armenia and Azerbaijan – would almost certainly be able to provide more. ”
For now, France is looking to use soft power, sending aid to Armenia with a second humanitarian aid flight due to land on Friday after the arrival of a first shipment last Sunday.
Macron is also hoping that his fellow Minsk group president, the United States, will show more interest in the issue under new President Joe Biden than under Donald Trump.
And analysts agree that as long as the ceasefire continues, it has not resolved the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh’s long-term status.
Describing the deal as a “bitter pill for Armenia”, analysts from the International Crisis Group (ICG) said: “Humiliation cannot be a solid basis for lasting peace.”