Macron’s mixed messages on Ukraine - GulfToday

Macron’s mixed messages on Ukraine


Emmanuel Macron

When NATO’s 30 foreign ministers met in Bucharest in November to map out further aid plans for Ukraine and regional players under pressure from Russia, there was a notable ministerial absence: France.

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna was with President Emmanuel Macron on a state visit to the United States, although US Secretary of State Antony Blinken managed to make it to Bucharest.

According to Reuters, for European allies, especially eastern states closer to the front lines, it was one more reason to fret about French policy on Ukraine and whether it is a weak link in the Western alliance that has been bolstering Kyiv against Russia’s invasion.

Two days after the Bucharest meeting, in interviews with French and US media outlets, Macron mixed his messages on Ukraine, adding to exasperation that has become increasingly open in some east European capitals. On the one hand it was up to Kyiv to decide when to negotiate with Moscow, Macron said, but on the other he repeated comments that called for security guarantees for Russia when the day to negotiate came.

Ukraine’s response was swift and blunt. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s top aide, Mykhailo Podolyak, said it was the world that needed security guarantees from Russia, not the other way around.

Such comments have made France’s eastern European and Baltic allies in NATO angry and wary of Macron’s intentions despite Paris providing substantial military and financial aid to Ukraine, diplomats and former politicians said.

The annoyance among eastern allies has undermined Macron’s own policy agenda to beef up European “strategic autonomy” separate from the US-led NATO umbrella, with eastern allies now trusting the United States more for their defence. An eastern European diplomat said Macron had “misread” Russia once and the fear was he would do so again.

Asked by reporters to respond to critics about his latest comments on Russia, Macron said on the sidelines of an EU summit in Albania: “I don’t think we should make a big deal out of that and create controversies where there’s none.”

French diplomats and presidency officials underscore that France has never avoided giving Kyiv political, military and humanitarian aid, and that Macron repeatedly consulted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky before dealing with Putin.

But Macron’s talk of security guarantees has also irked close Western allies who see it as inappropriate set against an invasion that has killed tens of thousands of Ukrainians, laid waste to cities and left millions in winter cold and darkness.

“In foreign policy, you should never say everything out loud. Being right is not enough,” Gerard Araud, a former French ambassador to Washington, tweeted, without mentioning Macron by name but adding a pointed “sigh” at the end.

“You have to say it at the right moment, or you risk ending up with the opposite of what you wanted,” he said.

The latest bout of criticism has stung Paris because it comes after Macron had recalibrated his message on Russia.

After irritating Ukraine and eastern Europeans when he said during his re-election campaign that Russia should not be “humiliated”, Macron pivoted with a widely-praised speech at the United Nations in September saying neutral countries were being complicit by remaining silent about the conflict. France had also stepped up military aid to Ukraine and made it more public. In some ways, the mixed messages have been unsurprising.

The backbone of Macron’s foreign policy since 2017 has been to launch initiatives and go against the grain. His comments in 2019 on NATO being “brain dead” caused no crisis in the alliance but rather stimulated constructive debate about its mission.

Macron rarely reverses comments he has made. He tries to explain, convince peers that he is right and demonstrate his prowess on the international stage, associates say.

He is typically energetic, enjoys confronting complex issues, and has a flair for seizing the moment.

Related articles

Other Articles