Macron refuses to back down on possibility of sending troops to Ukraine

French leader Emmanuel Macron says ruling out sending troops to Ukraine is tantamount to choosing defeat against Russia

Tom Watling
Friday 15 March 2024 15:40 GMT
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, and French President Emmanuel Macron shake hands after a press conference in February
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, and French President Emmanuel Macron shake hands after a press conference in February (AP)

French president Emmanuel Macron has refused to back down on controversial comments made last month in which he said he could not rule out sending troops to fight in Ukraine.

The French premier, speaking to broadcasters TF1 and France 2 last night, said to rule out the option of sending troops was tantamount to “opting for defeat”.

Russia cannot win,” he said. “If Russia were to win, life for the French would change. We would no longer have security in Europe. Who can seriously believe that Putin, who has respected no limits, would stop there.”

When pressed on whether he was sticking by his comments from last month, he said ambiguity was vital; to publicly keep the option open to send troops into the fight against Vladimir Putin’s forces in Ukraine, pushing the idea that nothing is off the table, was the only way to signal the West’s unwavering support for Kyiv.

“I’m right about not being specific,” he said. “If war was to spread to Europe, it would be Russia’s sole choice and sole responsibility. But for us to decide today to be weak, to decide today that we would not respond, is being defeated already. And I don’t want that.”

One former senior French civil servant lauded the comments as nascent. “It is an innovative idea that will gradually gain understanding and acceptance,” he said.

Emergency services work at the scene of a building that was damaged by a Russian drone attack in Vinnytsia, Ukraine (AP)

Sergei Naryshkin, chief of Russia’s foreign intelligence service, meanwhile, described the new remarks as “crazy and paranoid dreams”. Last month, they warned that sending troops to Ukraine would escalate the conflict.

The French leader’s comments come ahead of a Friday meeting between him, German chancellor Olaf Scholz and Polish prime minister Donald Tusk in Berlin, during which the trio are expected to discuss the ongoing situation in Ukraine.

Mr Scholz appeared to challenge Mr Macron’s initial comments last month after the meeting in Paris. The day after that meeting, he said there would be “no ground troops, no soldiers on Ukrainian soil sent there by European countries or Nato states”.

But ahead of the mini-summit in Berlin on Friday, he dismissed speculation that there was a growing rift between him and Mr Macron, saying he has a “very good personal relationship” with the French leader.

He added that supporting Ukraine “is a very concrete and very practical question of whether there is enough ammunition, enough artillery, enough air defence - many things that play a major role. And discussing and advancing this cooperation once again is what is needed right now.”

Mr Macron’s initial comments sparked a spate of rebuttals from Ukraine’s western allies last month. The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) told The Independent at the time that they had “no plans for UK troops to fight alongside the Ukrainian armed forces”.

John Foreman, a former UK defence attache to Moscow until 2022, accused Mr Macron of issuing the comments to distract from an otherwise chequered past of supporting Ukraine.

“Mr Macron has a long history of pronouncing on things which don’t come true while also posing as the saviour of Europe,” he said. “There is a big say/do gap so I didn’t take this particularly seriously.”

He suggested the comments were intended to mask the fact that Mr Macron had previously blocked attempts by other European nations to buy much-needed artillery for Kyiv from countries outside of the bloc, a move that was criticised as costly to Ukraine at a time when Russian forces are advancing in the east.

Though he has since reneged on his opposition to this plan, Mr Foreman insisted that the delay was nonetheless damaging.

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