With a Wink to the Kremlin, Macron Pledges Limited Aid to Kyiv

European security must be built on a ‘non-confrontation’ with Moscow, the French president asserts.

AP/Michel Euler
Presidents Zelensky and Macron at the Elysee palace, Paris, May 14, 2023. AP/Michel Euler

He isn’t two-faced; he is merely Emmanuel Macron. On Sunday the wily French president met with President Zelensky, who in between stops at Berlin and London made a surprise visit to Paris. 

There, Mr. Macron pledged additional military aid for Ukraine, including light tanks, armored vehicles, training for soldiers, and other assistance to bolster a Ukrainian counteroffensive. At the same time, he reiterated that ultimately, at least in his view, Europe should steer clear of antagonizing Russia.

In remarks to the French publication L’Opinion, Mr. Macron stated, “I have always said that in the future the European security architecture should fully ensure the security of Ukraine. But it must also include not confronting Russia, and rebuilding a sustainable balance.” He added that “there are still many stages to be overcome in order to get to that point.”

Assisting Ukraine in its grueling effort to eject Russian forces from territories illegally seized and occupied is presumably the most important. Unlike in Britain, where Mr. Zelensky met with Prime Minister Sunak on Monday, French policy is to not divulge specifics of military assistance to Ukraine or any other country, for that matter. But to paraphrase Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Republican of Georgia, “everyone knows” that French aid to Ukraine has been pro forma compared to the billions sent from Washington — about $47 billion to date — and London. 

Last year Britain contributed nearly $3 billion of military aid to Ukraine. As of last week, it became the first Western country to supply Ukraine with long-range Storm Shadow cruise missiles.

Mr. Macron’s office will supply light tanks and armored vehicles to Ukraine “in the weeks ahead,” according to the Elysee Palace, but that dispatch will not break the double-digit threshold. Additional air defense support is in the works, but there too Paris was predictably thin on details. More significant, arguably, is a French pledge to train some 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers in France. Another 4,000 will be trained in Poland, but as part of a wider European Union effort. 

In his interview with L’Opinion, Mr. Macron was not exactly gentle with Moscow, stating that Russia has already suffered a “geopolitical defeat” and fallen into a “vassal dependence” on Communist China that jeopardizes ties with its historical allies. He emphasized that he sees Europe’s task as both helping Ukraine with the counteroffensive, whenever it comes, as well as preparing the Continent for thorny issues related to security guarantees.

The comments, while not exactly out of left field for a president who styles himself as Europe’s preeminent statesman, could be seen by his detractors as a distraction, and possibly irrelevant while fighting is ongoing. They echo comments he made in early December 2022, when Mr. Macron said that after the end of the war in Ukraine, Europe will have to build an updated security architecture that involves providing guarantees for Russia. 

He was contradicted then by the EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, who said that Ukraine should receive such guarantees first. 

As with his comments last month that Europe should not be a “vassal” in the confrontation between Washington and Beijing, the Elysee Palace tried to frame them as having been taken out of context. 

Yet Mr. Putin is likely to take a favorable view to what he could see as a French maneuver to get ahead of the pack on the diplomatic front at a time when Mr. Sunak and Chancellor Scholz are more focused on the battle front. He knows that, to the chagrin of many, Mr. Macron regards him as a coeval on the Continental stage — a Russian first, but also a European. 

While Europe has by now largely weaned itself off of Russian oil and gas, France still relies on Russia for much of the smooth operation of its nuclear energy sector. Major French corporations were some of the last Western companies to divest from Russia following the invasion of Ukraine, and it is no secret that many would not like that abrupt adieu to be forever. 

Mr. Macron has to walk a fine line. For all his blather about a European security architecture, he knows that France is, like Britain, something of a great power in its own right, and one with its own nuclear arsenal and front row seats in NATO and the UN to prove it. He is also at the helm of a country in social turmoil and economic decline. 

To what extent his vision of a future Europe is serially blurred or prescient remains to be seen, but for the moment the proof is in le pudding. Mr. Zelensky’s three-hour rendezvous with Mr. Macron at Paris was just an hors-d’œuvre en route to the main course at London

The New York Sun

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