Macron’s musings about ground troops send Ukraine’s allies running for cover

28 February 2024
Macron’s musings about ground troops send Ukraine’s allies running for cover

If it were any other time — and if the stakes weren’t so high — the swift international slapdown that followed French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent comments on Ukraine might have been funny.

On Monday, Macron refused to rule out sending ground troops to Ukraine. The words were barely out of his mouth before startled allies and leaders around the globe started to wind them back, pour cold water on them and even refute them outright.

The speed with which nations lined up to have a crack at Macron was jaw-dropping. It was left to France’s defence minister, Sébastien Lecornu, to reframe what his boss had said by referring to discussions among allies about sending soldiers to carry out demining and military training in Ukraine — well away from the front lines.

“It’s not sending troops to wage war against Russia,” Lecornu said.

As if that would please Moscow any better.

The idea of dispatching western troops to Ukraine in any capacity has been unthinkable since the onset of major hostilities two years ago. NATO has made it quite clear it means to avoid being dragged into a wider war with nuclear-armed Russia.

Macron’s comments were interesting in part because he wasn’t talking about an alliance-wide initiative (which would require consensus among all 31 members) but rather an individual bilateral initiative of the sort that’s used to help train and arm Ukraine’s military.

Even so, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and even the United States swiftly disavowed his idea.

Canada’s response was a little muddled by comparison. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland avoided directly refuting Macron’s suggestion on Tuesday. It was left to a spokesperson for Defence Minister Bill Blair to articulate the country’s position.

“We will continue to provide Ukraine with comprehensive military assistance, but as a NATO member, Canada has no plans to deploy combat troops to Ukraine,” said Diana Ebadi.

Both Freeland and Ebadi pointed to the security assurance package signed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last weekend. It includes a clause stating that where military training is concerned, Canadian troops would return “to conduct associated activities in Ukraine when conditions permit.”

Ukraine has been trying to entice allies to resume troop training within its borders. It’s been sending its recruits and soldiers to the United Kingdom and Poland, where the bulk of the instruction has taken place.

Andrew Rasiulis, a former senior official at the Department of National Defence (DND) who once ran the department’s Directorate of Nuclear and Arms Control Policy, said Macron’s comments are a sign of “deep concern” among European leaders about what’s coming.

“The war is not going well for the Ukrainians. That’s a fact. And so, people are getting nervous,” said Rasiulis, a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

He described Macron’s remarks as nothing more than “musings” that seem to overlook the full consequences — because deploying forces “essentially means going to war.”

The Kremlin, in response, was swift to warn that any deployment of western troops would lead to a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia.

“In this case, we need to talk not about probability, but about the inevitability (of conflict),” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Matthew Schmidt, a national security and eastern European expert at the University of New Haven in Connecticut, said Macron’s remarks could have been an attempt at a display of resolve for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s benefit. If so, they appear to have backfired.

Schmidt said it’s a remarkable about-face for a French president who, earlier in the war, pushed for negotiations and infamously insisted that Russia deserved security guarantees.

“The question I have is the timing,” said Schmidt. “Everybody else in Europe is saying maybe it’s time to, you know, look at negotiations, at least by the end of this year. Nobody is really doubling down at this point.”

Politically, Schmidt said, it may be that Macron wants to establish France as the leader of the alliance’s European side in light of wavering in the U.S. Congress.

“I think Macron saying what he did might be more in the interest of Macron than in the interest of France,” he said.

Source: cbc

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