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EU capitals pour cold water on Macron’s ‘Western troops in Ukraine’ remarks

Several EU capitals, including Berlin, Warsaw, and Madrid, dismissed remarks by French President Emmanuel Macron, who had suggested that a future deployment of Western troops in Ukraine should not be ultimately “ruled out”

By: EBR - Posted: Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Although Macron clarified already on Monday, following a gathering of European leaders in Paris, that there was ‘no consensus’ on the matter, his words stood in stark contrast to the Western European ‘red line’ when it came to putting boots on the ground in Ukraine.
Although Macron clarified already on Monday, following a gathering of European leaders in Paris, that there was ‘no consensus’ on the matter, his words stood in stark contrast to the Western European ‘red line’ when it came to putting boots on the ground in Ukraine.

by Charles Szumski and Euractiv Network

Several EU capitals, including Berlin, Warsaw, and Madrid, dismissed on Tuesday (27 February) remarks by French President Emmanuel Macron, who had suggested that a future deployment of Western troops in Ukraine should not be ultimately “ruled out”.

Although Macron clarified already on Monday, following a gathering of European leaders in Paris, that there was ‘no consensus’ on the matter, his words stood in stark contrast to the Western European ‘red line’ when it came to putting boots on the ground in Ukraine.

No EU or NATO country present at Monday’s conference openly expressed interest or intention to send soldiers to Ukraine.

In France, Macron’s remarks sparked criticism from the French opposition, with several party leaders calling for a formal parliamentary debate on France’s Ukraine strategy.

Already the day before, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, the frontrunner to become NATO’s next secretary-general, told reporters the issue of sending troops was not the focus of Monday’s talks and shifted the focus on a Czech initiative to buy ammunition outside Europe supported by 15 European countries.

Ukraine cautious

Ukrainian officials have largely refrained from commenting publicly on the issue.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s aide Mykhailo Podolyak cautiously welcomed the possibility of European nations at some stage sending troops to Ukraine.

“This shows, first of all, an absolute awareness of the risks posed to Europe by a militaristic, aggressive Russia,” Podolyak told Reuters in written comments.

“The opening of a discussion on the possibility of direct support of Ukraine by armed forces should be seen as a desire to set the right accents, to highlight the risks more clearly,” he added.

However, the general understanding in Kyiv is that should such a decision ever be taken, Western partners would be unlikely to be involved in frontline fighting but could rather be engaged in non-battlefield-related tasks, such as training.

Camille Grand of the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank explained that the presence of ground troops could take multiple forms to assist the Ukrainians – from medical assistance to technical support.

“The key message from Macron was that we stand ready to support Ukraine in the long haul, and – not a full consensus view amongst the participants – we are open to examine ways to deepen this support,” she told Euractiv.

Prevailing scepticism

Across Europe, Macron’s comments were greeted with scepticism or outward rejection.

“There will be no ground troops, no soldiers on Ukrainian soil sent there by European states or NATO states”, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told reporters during a visit to Freiburg on Tuesday.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, whose country is expected to join NATO in a few days, told SVT’s Morgonstudion programme that sending troops to Ukraine is “not at all on the agenda right now”, adding that there is currently no demand on the Ukrainian side for ground troops.

The Iberian peninsula remained impervious to the idea too, with Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa saying he did not see any NATO country doing so, and Spain‘s government spokeswoman Pilar Alegria telling Euractiv’s partner EFE that Spain’s position was “clear” in its commitment to increase and consolidate support for the Ukrainian people, but not to send European or NATO troops to Ukraine.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, considered a close ally of Macron, was categorical on the issue:

“I want to assure you that there is no issue of sending forces, European forces of NATO, inside Ukraine, an issue which does not exist for Greece and I believe does not exist for the great majority of our counterparts.”

Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his Czech counterpart Petr Fiala referred to the issue at Tuesday’s V4 press conference in Prague, and both rejected the notion that there were plans to involve the Czech or Polish troops directly in the war.

“We are not considering sending any troops to Ukraine,” Fiala said, adding that there is no need to “open other methods and ways”, while his Polish counterpart said Poland, seen as one of the staunchest Ukraine supporters, “does not expect to send troops to Ukraine”.

“I think we should not speculate today about the future, whether something will happen to change that,” Tusk said.

Bulgarian President Rumen Radev, who has voiced opposition to sending military aid to Ukraine and has repeatedly referred to the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a “conflict”, declared that sending NATO troops to Ukraine means an “incredible increase in the risk of a nuclear conflict”. Bulgaria, he added, cannot afford “reckless actions that would lead to a global military conflict”.

A White House official was quoted by Reuters as saying that the United States had no plans to send troops to fight in Ukraine and there were no plans to send NATO troops to fight in Ukraine.

‘Fico Factor’

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico had first raised the issue on Monday, and doubled down upon his return from Paris.

“They all want to support the war at any cost to keep the war going,“ Fico said in a video, sent to the media.

In a second statement, published shortly before meeting his counterparts of Visegrad countries in Prague, he said he was “glad that at the end of the day, President Macron himself confirmed that the issue of sending soldiers from EU or NATO member countries to the territory of Ukraine is also on the table.“

He also stressed that he wanted to reassure his citizens that Slovakia is not thinking of sending any soldiers to Ukraine.

Domestic context

Macron’s comments come against the backdrop of the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale war in Ukraine, with Kyiv increasingly outgunned and outmanned due to a lack of ammunition supplies.

For the first time, the French leader also openly echoed comments about growing concerns in the West that Russia could try to directly undermine NATO in the coming decade.

Observers suggest Macron’s remarks could have also been addressed to his domestic audience, four months before the European elections in June.

Macron is currently under pressure from the soaring far-right Rassemblement National (RN) party which is accusing him of not being bold enough in the peace efforts to end the war.

So far, the common European line on any future peace negotiation and agreement is that it would have to be based on Ukrainian terms.

*first published in: Euractiv.com

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