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An international disinformation campaign targeting France and its support for Armenia under attack?

Updated: Aug 6, 2023

Mr. Doran's tweet (Hudson Institute, Washington) announcing the delivery (as yet non-existent) of arms to Armenia by France.

Rumors are circulating in France, Ukraine, Israel and the USA that France is supplying arms to Armenia. What appears to be a disinformation campaign seems to be aimed precisely at preventing these arms deliveries (or, alternatively, at minimizing their quality and/or quantity), even though Armenia is a democracy under attack from the Baku-Ankara axis, with the implicit support of Putin's Russia. At the same time, Giorga Meloni's Italy is delivering, for real, military aircraft to the Azeri dictatorship, presented by Stoltenberg's NATO and Von der Leyen's European Commission as a "reliable partner" in the energy field. The Commission and NATO are careful not to reveal to Western public opinion that some of the hydrocarbons delivered to Europe by Baku are in fact probably Russian[1]. To do so would be to acknowledge that they are indirectly financing the Russian war effort, as well as the Azeri war effort, both of which are strong, expansionist regimes. Since Azerbaijan does not produce enough gas, it imports it from Russia, presumably to meet its contractual obligations. Lukoil holds 20% of Azerbaijan's gas (BP 30%[2]). Azerbaijan, which likes to present itself as supporting the aggressed Ukraine, and Russia actually signed a strategic partnership on the eve of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on 23rd February 2022[3].

On 15 May 2023, the Israeli news website i24NEWS published an article by Ariel Kogan entitled "France joins the fray in the Caucasus, posing a threat to Israel's ally Azerbaijan[4]". Ariel Kogan, an author apparently in favor of a stronger alliance between Israel and the Turkic countries[5], is presented on the website of the Institute for Euro-Asian Jewish Studies as an expert on the Caucasus region and the Turkic countries of the former USSR. This article was widely relayed by Azerbaijani accounts and by those who support the Aliyev dictatorship in conservative think tanks such as the Washington-based Hudson Institute. On 16 May 2023, Mike Doran of the Hudson Institute shamelessly tweeted that France would be delivering "50 armored vehicles" and "Minstrel air-defense missiles" (sic) to Armenia.

Ariel Kogan's article cites among its sources Ukrainian intelligence (Ministry of Defense) and the "reputable" AZfront TV channel Telegram. According to the Ukrainian secret service quoted in the article, French weapons delivered to Armenia could be used by Russia in its war of aggression in Ukraine. Ukraine and Israel supported the Baku-Ankara axis in its war of aggression against the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, which began on 27 September 2020. Israel has made massive arms deliveries to Azerbaijan as part of a strategic partnership[6].

Ariel Kogan's article is full of misinformation. Specifically, he says that French arms deliveries to Armenia have already begun. He adds that Armenia uses Iranian drones, which is also false[7]. He adds that the "probability" of French weapons falling into Iranian hands is quite "high", and that this would enable the Iranians to modernize their arsenal through "reverse engineering". Overall, this "delivery" of French weapons to Armenia is presented as an attack on the interests of Israel and Ukraine.

Azerbaijan illegally occupies 215 km2 of the sovereign territory of the Republic of Armenia. Azerbaijan is still abusively holding 33 Armenian prisoners of war, as well as between 80 and 200 forcibly disappeared persons of whom there is no news. Azerbaijan has turned the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic into the world's largest open-air prison through an illegal and inhumane blockade begun on 12 December 2022 and condemned by the International Court of Justice on 22 February 2023. Yet this binding legal opinion by the highest court of the United Nations remains without effect. These facts are systematically ignored by authors and think-tankers such as Ariel Kogan and Mike Doran. Under these conditions, quality French arms deliveries to an Armenia under attack, whose friend it claims to be, would be entirely legitimate.

In his article published on I24News on 15 May 2023 (owned by billionaire Patrick Drahi, who also owns BFM TV), Ariel Kogan also cites as his source an unsigned article dated 10 May 2023 from the online intelligence journal "intelligence online". According to this article, Paris has begun to set up an arms export system to Armenia[8]. Amidst the flood of fake news, Kogan's article cites an actual fact: the appointment of a French defense attaché in Yerevan[9].

Ariel Kogan presents Intelligence Online as a "known spokesman for the French secret services". Intelligence Online is published in Paris by Indigos publications, whose founding president is Maurice Botbol.

If there is a disinformation campaign, what are its aims?

The question is whether this seemingly neutral article of 10 May 2023 does not rather serve - even unwittingly - other interests. Indeed, it would seem that what appears to be a sophisticated international disinformation campaign is aimed precisely at discrediting, and thus preventing, the subject it addresses, namely the delivery of French arms to Armenia. Armenia is under attack from adversaries 30 times its population, and has been abandoned by its Russian "ally", also more interested in Caspian hydrocarbons than in defending the Armenians. Alternatively, if arms deliveries were to take place anyway, this campaign could be aimed at minimizing their quality and quantity.

In "Caucase de France[10]", a newspaper which claims to have been created by a "group of people from the South Caucasus[11]", Emmanuel Dupuy is presented as the president of the Institut Prospective et Sécurité en Europe (IPSE), a specialist in security, defense and arms issues. In an interview in these pages, Emmanuel Dupuy validates the thesis that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is largely over, and tends to play down France's role in mediating the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Above all, he asserts that the age of the armored vehicles delivered by France to Armenia (they date back to 1976, according to the interviewee) should not "nourish" any "fears" on the Azeri and Turkish sides. On the other hand, he presents the possible delivery of more modern armored vehicles (Bastion and Sherpa) as a "risk" that would be "problematic". The use of figures in common with those in Ariel Kogan's article (50 armored vehicles delivered by France) can only raise questions. Will these deliveries take place? The interviewer cites the delivery of 50 armored vehicles by France to Armenia as a proven fact, referring to "major European media". In fact, if you follow the link, it's essentially Ariel Kogan's article on i24NEWs.

Who is Emmanuel Dupuy? Radio France, a member of the international investigative consortium "Fordidden Stories", describes him as follows in the article "Story Killers: when "Valeurs Actuelles" is used by an Israeli disinformation company[12]": "He is an important figure in the world of French-speaking influence. A former ministerial advisor and UDI (French political party) national secretary in charge of defense issues, he is a regular guest on major French media outlets such as LCI, BFM TV and France Télévisions. According to a former employee of an influence agency contacted by Forbidden Stories, Emmanuel Dupuy would be the ideal person to contact to disseminate content in France by signing articles or tribunes. The list of countries with which he has been contracted is impressive". The same Radio France article points the finger at the role of the Israeli company Percepto in using “Valeurs Actuelles” (a right-wing French weekly news magazine) to disseminate information aimed at discrediting the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Burkina-Faso, accused of having forged de facto alliances with jihadist groups. In the end, for Radio France and Forbidden Stories, "Israel has become a stronghold of disinformation".

What appears to be a disinformation campaign is probably also aimed at trivializing Italy's delivery of arms to Azerbaijan, which has been denounced as an aggressor by the European Parliament and Emmanuel Macron. This could also encourage future contracts with the aggressor country. The Leonardo Group announced the delivery of C-27J Spartan aircraft to Azerbaijan on 8 June 2023, without causing a stir[13]. In the press release announcing the contract, Leonardo wrote: "Initially linked to the energy sectors, the collaboration between Italy and Azerbaijan is now also extended to defence industry". Italy is in fact the arrival point for the Southern European gas corridor linking the Caspian to Europe. Famous lobbyists, such as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, were mobilized for the construction of this infrastructure[14]. Does this defense contract herald others between Italy and Azerbaijan? Between Azerbaijan, presented as a "reliable partner" by Von der Leyen and Stoltenberg, and other Western countries?

France seems to be isolated within the European Union in its support for the aggressed Armenia. The question is this: Does France still have the ambition to pursue an independent policy in a region like the South Caucasus? Undoubtedly, it has the means to do so. If the political will were there, France could easily deliver 50 new-generation armored vehicles, Mistral missiles and the like to Armenia, thus finally translating into deeds the communicative support it offers Armenia. As we have seen, Italy has just shamelessly announced the delivery of arms to the Azerbaijani dictatorship. But does France really want this? Is it taking the energy interests of its European neighbors too much into account? Is it submitting too much to the vision of a Stoltenberg or a von der Leyen?

France's inaction is all the more disconcerting given that it is unquestionably the Aliyev dictatorship's punching bag. On 28 May 2023, Aliyev gave yet another martial speech from Lachin, the corridor linking Armenia to the Republic of Artsakh, which he has been blocking illegally and with impunity since 12 December 2022. Commenting on the EU civilian mission, which is supposed to protect the Republic of Armenia from the appetites of his dictatorship, Aliyev said: "The border will pass where we say it passes. The Armenians know what we can do. Nobody will come to help them, nobody, not even the retired French gendarmes who have come from Europe". In January 2023, he demanded an apology from France for "slander" during the 2020 war: in particular, Emmanuel Macron had declared, alone among foreign heads of state, that Turkey and Azerbaijan had used Syrian mercenaries for their war of aggression against Nagorno-Karabakh in autumn 2020. In October 2022, Azerbaijani public television broadcast a song insulting President Macron[15].

"He's pro-Armenian," sings presenter Aziz Aliyev.

"What can you say to this person?

He makes false promises

He dances with Pashinyan

He humiliated himself like this

Say - who is that person?"

The children in the chorus then respond, syllable-by-syllable, "EM-MAN-U-EL!

The singer continues:

"At the very center of Paris"

"In fluent French

Someone's talking nonsense

As if he is drunk...

Say - who is that person?"

The children again respond: "EM-MAN-U-EL!"

As we have seen, claims that France has already delivered arms to Armenia are false. They do, however, exploit the huge gap between official French communication, which describes Armenia as a "sister", a country that enjoys France's "unwavering" support, and the reality of France's support for Armenia. This misinformation campaign also seems to feed on the vagueness of French policy in Armenia, starting with military matters. Nobody knows what is really being discussed between Sébastien Lecornu, the French Minister of Defense and his Armenian counterpart, who was recently in Paris. While we can no doubt imagine - and this is only speculation - that France may have played an important, even decisive role in the deployment of the EU civilian mission on Armenian soil, the fact remains that France - as if it no longer believed in itself - does not embody its support in words for Armenia with strong actions of its own. What action has France taken as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to enforce the ICJ's binding decision on the blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh? What action has France taken to keep the flame of Artsakh's self-determination burning? This people is in such danger that the Lemkin Institute for the Prevention of Genocide warns us that if France and the United States were to accept Azerbaijan's territorial claim to Nagorno-Karabakh, they could be complicit in genocide[16] under Article 3.e of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Has France delivered quality defensive weapons to Armenia in order to maintain a semblance of a balance of power between Armenia and an Azerbaijan that makes no secret of its expansionist intentions in Armenia proper? The excuse that Armenia belongs to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) does not seem valid. The USA, for example, supplies arms to Tajikistan, which, like Yerevan, is still a member of the CSTO, an organization whose futility is no longer in doubt.

As with Joe Biden in the United States, France's recognition of the Armenian genocide (in France, 24 April is even now part of the Republican calendar) is symbolic, and does not translate into a policy of clear, unambiguous support for Armenian democracy, backed by strong action. Joe Biden did invite Armenia to the Democracy Summits (from which Turkey and Azerbaijan were excluded), but it is the non-democratic Azerbaijan that is receiving massive military aid from the United States, in defiance of an act of Congress and by presidential waiver of section 907 of the Freedom Support Act. Armenia does not. Similarly, the USAID agency headed by Mrs. Power, which apologized for the Obama administration's failure to recognize the Armenian genocide, contrary to a campaign promise, has not intervened to help the 120,000 Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, who have been under an illegal and inhumane blockade since December 2022. If there's an official for whom the Lemkin Institute's warning should resonate, it's her. In 2018 and 2019, the US allocated $100 million in security aid to Azerbaijan, including equipment and other assistance to Azerbaijan's National Border Guard Service. The latter took part in the 2020 war of aggression against Nagorno-Karabakh. Many of them are now deployed along Azerbaijan's border with Armenia[17]. Candidate Biden had promised to put an end to this massive military aid to the aggressor country. Once elected, he forgot this promise. Similarly, candidate Pashinyan had promised during the 2021 legislative campaign to fight for the "reparative secession" of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) from Azerbaijan. After his victory, Artsakh's self-determination was even included in the Armenian government's official plan. Unfortunately, Pashinyan has since forgotten this part of his program, at the request of the international community and Armenia's partners, he said[18]. This failure to keep one's word to the electorate should be examined at forthcoming summits on democracy as a serious breach of the very idea of democracy.

On 18 June 2023, President Macron announced that Missak and Mélinée Manouchian would join the Pantheon[19]. That this resistance hero, who was an Armenian genocide survivor, joins France’s mausoleum of revered political figures with his wife (also a resistance fighter) is obviously a great honor for all French people of Armenian origin. But this symbolic honor cannot hide the fact that France, aligned with Brussels (NATO/EU), Washington (and even Moscow in this case), is abandoning the people of Artsakh to their sad fate. As in 1922, when France abandoned Cilicia, reneging on its commitment to establish an Armenian state there. Beyond the rhetoric about the sisterhood between France and Armenia, history risks repeating itself through a lack of courage and strong action. It's not too late to get a grip, avoid the risk of complicity in genocide and stand up resolutely to Panturkism.

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