Questioning Emmanuel Macron’s choice of words, his taste for complex thought or his ability to read the room, say those who try to explain the French president’s plea to avoid ‘humiliating’ Moscow – but do not question his support for Ukraine in its war against Russia .
Some have interpreted Macron’s call – first made in a speech to the European Parliament and repeated in a recent interview with French media – as implying that Ukraine should be pushed into a ceasefire and territorial concessions. But if Russia risks being humiliated, the opposite conclusion could be drawn. “It is implicit in the wording that Russia will somehow be defeated,” says Michel Duclos, an adviser at the Paris-based Institut Montaigne.
A sympathetic interpretation of Macron’s remarks is that he is planning for the “day after,” says Marie Dumoulin, director of the Wider Europe program at the European Council on Foreign Relations. In Strasbourg, he hinted that he had post-conflict resolution in mind when he said that “humiliation” and “vengeance” had “taken their toll on the paths of peace”, a reference to Europe’s war-torn history and the controversial Treaty of Versailles in 1919.
He also reminded NATO allies that while they support Ukraine, they have ruled out a direct military confrontation with its nuclear-armed aggressor and will have to find a way to coexist with Moscow once the conflict is over. On Friday, the Elysee insisted that France wanted Ukraine to come out “victorious”.
“The idea is this: Moscow shouldn’t win, but in the long term, after the end of the war, a revanchist Russia is not in Europe’s interest,” Dumoulin said.
Until then, Macron wants to preserve a line of communication with the Kremlin – which he insists is a request from Kyiv – if only to help prevent escalation. “You cannot rule out an accident. Not many people can talk to Putin and Macron is trying to downplay the nuclear threat,” says Alexandra Martin of the Brastislava-based Globsec Policy Institute.
Critics who accuse Macron of working against Ukraine’s interests are arguably overlooking Paris’ involvement in Western efforts to help Kyiv. It sends heavy artillery systems, has sent officers to help investigate war crimes, and has also sent troops to Romania as part of the reinforcement of NATO’s eastern flank. In Brussels, he pushed for an EU-wide oil embargo and backed each of the EU’s six economic sanctions plans against Moscow. The new foreign minister, Catherine Colonna, visited Kyiv last month.
However, the ambiguity of Macron’s statements on Russia has clouded all of this, causing consternation not only in Kyiv, but also in Warsaw and the Baltic states, just as Ukrainian forces are repelling the Russian onslaught in the region. eastern Donbass. “Imagine if someone had said to France ‘Let’s not humiliate the Kaiser’ in the middle of the Battle of Verdun,” says Duclos.
Talk of humiliation is “unfortunate,” Dumoulin notes, because it echoes the story the Kremlin is telling about how Russia was treated by the West after the collapse of the Soviet Union. And these missteps are compounded, she adds, by a “pre-existing. . . suspicion” of the old Gaullist tradition of collaboration with Russia, which Macron has revived with his attempts to establish a rapport with Putin.
It is now hurting Macron’s leadership in Europe, Duclos says. The French president is deluding himself, he argues, if he thinks a lasting peace settlement is possible while Putin is in power. “This position makes its security and onboarding program more difficult to achieve,” he says.
Martin says the “huge” reputational cost Macron is bearing comes from the war undermining his plans for a more autonomous European defense policy. “Europe’s dependence on the United States will increase [and] NATO will remain for some time the main framework of European security.
A foreign policy reset is needed, Duclos said, starting with Macron’s clear commitment to NATO and charting a course for Ukraine’s EU membership.
Why not travel to Odessa, he suggests? The blocked Black Sea port is at the center of UN-led talks to allow Ukrainian grain to be shipped out of the country. The French president, who visited Kyiv before the war, has been criticized for not having returned to Ukraine since. “It needs to make a few gestures to regain a central position in Europe,” said Duclos.