Strategic Ambiguity of Macron’s Call for Troops in Ukraine: What Is Behind?

Macron’s call for the NATO troops in Ukraine shook the NATO countries as an earthquake. French President Emmanuel Macron said on Feb. 27 that sending Western troops on the ground in Ukraine is not “ruled out” in the future after the issue was debated at a gathering of European leaders in Paris.

“There’s no consensus today to send in an official, endorsed manner troops on the ground. But in terms of dynamics, nothing can be ruled out,” Macron said.

The public response of European leaders was not homogeneous but mostly opposite. Macron has been supported by Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, brought all this out into the open before the meeting. “A number of NATO and EU member states are considering sending troops to Ukraine on a bilateral basis,” he said.

Germany, the Czech Republic, and Poland have taken opposing positions on the deployment of NATO troops in Ukraine. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said it wouldn’t happen: “There will be no ground troops, no soldiers on Ukrainian soil sent there by European countries or NATO states.”

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said, “Poland does not plan to send its troops to Ukraine.”

Czech PM Petr Fiala also opposed to Macron’s call: “The Czech Republic certainly is not preparing to send any soldiers to Ukraine, nobody has to worry about that.”

The head of NATO also said that NATO has no plans to send troops to Ukraine, after other central European leaders confirmed that they too would not be providing soldiers, “NATO allies are providing unprecedented support to Ukraine. We have done that since 2014 and stepped up after the full-scale invasion. But there are no plans for NATO combat troops on the ground in Ukraine”, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.

The response of US administration to Macron’s call was immediate and clear too: “President Biden has been clear that the U.S. will not send troops to fight in Ukraine,” said National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson. Getting roughly $60 billion in military aid for Kyiv passed by Congress, she continued, is “the path to victory.”

It is worthy to remark that the issue of getting $60 billion during the last 6 months of debate in Congress has already turned to a thriller and it seems now it is hardly possible to foresee if this thriller has a chance to materialize in $60 billion military aid. 

In “America and the World”, Zbigniew Brzezinski noted that the United States can only act in the unity of the President, Congress, and the people. In this context, Macron has questioned this unity voluntary or by chance. The recent response of US administration to Macron’s statement about troops in Ukraine combined with the long-standing debate between US administration and Congress about further military aid to Ukraine disavowed those who are in charge for questionability mentioned above – US administration.

On one side, the recent Macron’s statements about the likelihood of debate on the European troops in Ukraine can be taken just for populism. On other side, if Macron was his political predecessor De Gaulle it could be considered as a provocation of the US to answer to this statement with a certain NO to NATO troops in Ukraine. This would show once again that President Biden ‘s leadership is not so decisive as leadership of President Roosevelt during a pre-NATO era.

An immediate response of US administration with “No US troops in Ukraine” intuitively delivers us back to the times of the World War II and a strong Roosevelt’s leadership and a D-Day as evidence of his leadership. Macron’s statements draw, accidentally or not, a line to compare leadership of Roosevelt and Biden, pushing to think once again if Biden’s leadership can resolve numerous challenges the world recently faced. Macron reminded Europe once again about a search for own security mechanisms.  

Actually, President Macron is not President De Gaulle. His political evolution is not matchable to the evolution of political leadership of De Gaulle but his political heritage is obvious – he inherited a deep aspiration of France to have a leadership in Europe instead of the US. So, the recent case can be an echo from the 1960s. Does Macron see such historical chance now and how will he proceed further?

Since Macron’s call for troops in Ukraine almost two months are over. There are no French troops in Ukraine. Macron turned to call his statement about French troops in Ukraine as “the strategic ambiguity”. In March the French leader sought to clarify this. “To explain that we will give ourselves no limits [to support Ukraine] is absolutely necessary when we are already so involved in the conflict,” Macron told reporters.

What does Macron actually mean by this “strategic ambiguity” in the context of the war in Ukraine?

Does it mean simultaneous trade cooperation between France and Russia, and the attempt of Macron to support Ukraine with its troops against Russia? Thus, in the first three months of this year, Russian liquefied natural gas deliveries to France grew more than to any other country in the EU compared to last year, according to data analyzed by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) think tank for POLITICO.

“It cannot be that France, on the one hand, says that we have to be harsh with Russia and on the other hand, is paying them off with big money,” said a diplomat from one EU country, who like others for this story, was granted anonymity to speak candidly.

Macron’s tried to leave this gas issue behind the public dialogue and recently made another declaration to support his previous statements. Macron said, that due to the delay in aid from the US, European allies will likely have to provide Ukraine with more than €50 billion, approved under the Ukraine Facility program.

Macron is ambiguous in this case again. First of all, Ukraine needs weapon and ammunition. US aid blocked in Congress prescribed almost half of the total aid as the weapon and ammunition. Is Macron confident that by allocating 50 billion euros to Ukraine, the EU will be able to purchase weapon and ammunition worth such a large amount, i.e. 50 billion euros, in time? It is worth mentioning last year’s EU project to allocate 2 billion euros to purchase 1 million shells for Ukraine by March of this year. This project, despite the allocation of funding, was never fully implemented, as no more than half of the 1 million shells were purchased. In other words, the EU failed to spend 2 billion euros on shells for Ukraine, and Macron says that the EU is ready to allocate 25 times more! This is already reminiscent of the strategic ambiguity where one can try to operate with statements that will be adjusted over time by the future geopolitical situation and technical capabilities to timely use such a large amount of 50 billion euros in the production of weapons.

Probably, strategic ambiguity of Macron’s recent calls related to the war in Ukraine is actually built around the national economic interests of France (a case of Russian gas) and an inherited aspiration of France to undertake leadership in Europe, and doing so to be closer to the geopolitical room where the end of war in Ukraine will be finally negotiated and the new, advanced architecture of the European security will be fixed. Probably, all these maneuvers turned Macron to declare his intention to take part in the upcoming peace summit in June in Switzerland and have a close communication to China. We need to wait to see if these Macron’s efforts will add a geopolitical weight to France in this time of the geopolitical turbulence.

[IAEA Imagebank, via Wikimedia Commons]

Dr. Alexander Kostyuk serves as the Editor-in-Chief of the Corporate Ownership and Control journal. He is also the Director of Virtus Interpress, based in Ukraine. In addition to his editorial roles, Dr. Kostyuk has held professorial positions at several esteemed institutions, including the Ukrainian Academy of Banking from 2009 to 2018, the Hanken School of Economics in 2011-2012, and the University of Nuremberg in 2013. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. 

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