What exactly is Emmanuel Macron’s policy on Ukraine?
ANDAFTER GERMANY the January 25 decision to send their Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and let other countries do the same, half a dozen of its European neighbors have pledged tanks. However, France is missing from the list. A few days earlier, when asked if his country would provide its Leclerc battle tanks, French President Emmanuel Macron said “nothing is out of the question.” France sought to spur Germany into action by announcing in early January that it would send AMX-10RC “light tanks” to Ukraine. However, just a month earlier, Macron had argued that Russia would need “security guarantees” in future peace talks. He keeps the lines open for Vladimir Putin, his Russian counterpart. What exactly is France’s policy towards Ukraine?
The seeming ambiguity of France’s position stems from two things. One is the role that Macron played in the years leading up to the Russian invasion. In an attempt to charm Putin into behaving better by inviting him to Versailles and his presidential residence on the Mediterranean, Macron made a final trip to Moscow in early February 2022 to try to avert war. These failed initiatives have presented the French president as a leader unwilling to counter Mr. Putin’s belligerence.
Second, since the invasion, Mr Macron has spoken to his Russian counterpart more than any other Western leader. The French President periodically mentions the possibility of peace talks, arguing that Russia’s concerns will need to be taken into account. Last year, he insisted on “not humiliating” Russia. Some believe that Macron wants to push Ukraine towards peace.
The French Presidency categorically denies this. According to the adviser, Macron has never put pressure on Volodymyr Zelensky, the President of Ukraine, to force him to negotiate. Mr Macron hardened his stance on Russia, saying on December 31 that France would support Ukraine “until victory.” The changes were noticed in Kyiv. “Macron’s statement does show a significant shift,” Andriy Zagorodnyuk, Zelenskiy’s former defense minister, tweeted in response to the news. These days, the French president’s conversations with Putin are carefully considered; The couple have not spoken since September. Meanwhile, France sent Ukraine an ultra-modern CAESAR howitzers and air defense systems; AMX-10RC will be shipped soon.
Mr Macron still seems to be hopeful that France can one day help end the war. This may explain why he is wary of spearheading European military support for Ukraine. He may also have long-standing fears of escalation, a view that is deeply rooted in the foreign policy establishment in Paris. But recent shipments of heavy weapons to France show that its assessment of this risk has changed. Perhaps Macron is simply saying out loud what other Ukrainian allies think. Russia will remain on the doorstep of Europe, with or without Mr. Putin at the head. At some point, the French say, the war will end in negotiations, and they will have to consider the security of the continent and the location NATOFuture borders of Russia. Maybe, but Mr Macron’s eagerness to express the complexity of the situation undermines the clarity of France’s position.
In fact, France is close to the American position on Ukraine, which was evident during Macron’s state visit to Washington in December 2022. Both countries fear escalation. President Joe Biden sees Mr. Macron’s line to Mr. Putin as useful. Americans also know that France is the largest military power in the European Union. On January 20, the French President announced a significant increase in France’s defense budget for 2024-2030 by 40% compared to 2019-2025 to 413 billion euros ($449 billion).
If France sends Leclerc tanks to Ukraine, it will be more of a symbolic rather than an operational decision. The French army has a little over 200 tanks in service and can save only a few of them. In any case, Mr Macron has made his political and military support for Ukraine clearer than ever, even if France remains unlikely to take the lead. ■