• France's news in English

Hollande bids to boost Caucasus ties

AFP · 11 May 2014, 15:53

Published: 11 May 2014 15:53 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

French President François Hollande starts a three-day visit to the South Caucasus on Sunday as he seeks to bolster European ties on Russia's southern doorstep amid the crisis in Ukraine.

Hollande was due to arrive in the Azerbaijani capital Baku at around 6:00 pm on Sunday, on the same day separatists in eastern Ukraine held referendums on breaking away from the country.

His visit is unlikely to be welcomed in Moscow, which has long considered the ex-Soviet republics of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia to be in its sphere
of influence.

French officials insisted the visit is not confrontational and aimed only at boosting the European Union's relations in the region.

"We do not see this work for closer ties with the European Union as against Russia," a source in Hollande's office said.

"This is not a combative visit, but one aimed at promoting closer ties," the source said.

Hollande will meet Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev before heading to Armenia on Monday and Georgia on Tuesday.

Like Ukraine, all three countries have sought closer ties with Europe, with Georgia going so far as to seek to join the NATO military alliance.

Hollande's visit to the Georgian capital Tbilisi is especially sensitive in the wake of the 2008 Georgia-Russia war over the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The EU is keen to sign "Eastern Partnership" political and trade agreements with ex-Soviet countries, including those in the South Caucasus.

Such a deal with Ukraine was at the origin of the country's crisis when then-president Viktor Yanukovych unexpectedly refused to sign up under Russian pressure.

His move triggered pro-EU protests in Kiev which evolved into broader demonstrations that eventually led to Yanukovych's ousting.

The ensuing chaos saw Russia annex Crimea from Ukraine and parts of Ukraine's Russian-speaking east threatening to break away.

Much of the focus of Hollande's visit will be on economic ties, in particular in Azerbaijan, where European companies are heavily involved in the country's energy industry.

Story continues below…

In Armenia he will focus as well on cultural ties, attending a concert Monday by Charles Aznavour, the French crooner of Armenian origin, and dedicating a square to Missak Manouchian, a French-Armenian poet and resistance fighter who was executed by the Nazis.

There are some 500,000 French of Armenian origin and the community is an important political constituency.

Hollande will also discuss the Nagorny Karabakh dispute with the Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders, after years of fruitless negotiations on resolving the frozen conflict.

Along with Russia and the United States, France has for 20 years been trying to mediate a peace deal in the conflict, which saw Armenian separatist backed by Yerevan seize Karabakh from Azerbaijan in a war that claimed some 30,000 lives.

The conflict has simmered on, with frequent exchanges of gunfire and vows from Baku to retake the region by force.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
How life for expats in France has changed over the years
A market in Eymet, southwestern France. Photo: AFP

Foreigners in France explain how life has changed over the years.

London calling for Calais youths, but only a chosen few
Photo: AFP

Dozens of Calais minors are still hanging their hopes on help from the UK, but not all will be so lucky.

17 different ways to talk about sex in French
Photo: Helga Weber/Flickr

Fancy a quick run with the one-legged man?

Yikes! This is what a rat-infested French jail looks like
Photo: YouTube/France Bleu TV.

This video is not for sufferers of ratophobia (or musophobia as the condition is officially called).

France to allow Baby Jesus in Town Halls this Christmas
Photo: AFP

Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus are safe to go on display again this year, it seems.

National Front posts locations of migrants in French town
The National Front courts controversy. Photo: AFP

"Local tax payers have a right to know," says local far-right party chief.

Paris thieves use tear gas to steal €500,000 of watches
Photo: AFP

The thieves pretended to be couriers then threatened staff with tear gas to get the watches.

Bataclan survivor recounts attack in chilling drawings
Photo: BFMTV screengrab

One survivor has recounted the horrific night through illustrations.

Anger among French police grows as Hollande vows talks
French police demonstrate on the Champs Elysées. Photo: AFP

A fourth night of protests shows government efforts to ease anger among French police have been fruitless.

UK border must move back, says 'next French president'
Photo: AFP

If favourite Alain Juppé is elected, Britain and France are in for some difficult negotiations.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
The ups and downs of being both French and English
How Brexit vote has changed life for expats in France
Twelve French insults we'd love to have in English
What's on in France: Ten of the best events in October
jobs available