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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Defining Victory In Ukraine: The Real Meaning Of Macron's "Not Crushing" Russia

French President Emmanuel Macron turned heads by saying that his objective was to defeat Russia, without "crushing" it. This diverges with the objectives of Ukraine and other allies. It's a question that will ultimately be answered on the battlefield.

Photo of Ukrainian troops on a tank in the Zaporizhzhia Region​

Ukrainian troops practice assault operations on Russian positions in the Zaporizhzhia Region

Pierre Haski


PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron sometimes describes himself as "the master of clocks" — Of course he cannot claim that title in the war in Ukraine, where the timing of the fighting must obey to other "masters."

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Still, time management is crucial in any military conflict, and the French President mentioned it in his speech at the Munich Security Conference this past weekend, and in the interview he gave to France Inter public radio afterwards. Timing is a topic that weighs on the destiny of the war, on the outlines of a possible peace, on the rest of the world that suffers the consequences.

In his speech, just a few days before the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion, Macron said he was prepared for a prolonged conflict in Ukraine. But he immediately added, "By saying this, I do not wish it. But above all, if we do not wish it, we must collectively be credible in our ability to endure this effort."

This balance between duration and effort carries with it a good part of the challenges of the moment, and of the possible scenarios in the relatively short term.

The Crimea question

All the protagonists know that no negotiations are possible today because both parties, Russians and Ukrainians, are preparing for looming offensives and counter-offensives. The next few weeks will likely see some of the most intense battles of this conflict.

For weeks now, the front has stabilized over nearly a thousand kilometers, after significant movements in the early months. The Ukrainian army is on the defensive, awaiting heavy weapons that have been promised by Western allies that could allow it to try to break through the Russian lines. Vladimir Putin's army, for its part, has benefited from reinforcements from a partial mobilization: it is counting on numbers and on its ability to bear heavier losses than its adversary.

The Ukrainians, along with others in Europe, are operating under the logic of total victory.

In his remarks, which caused a stir, Emmanuel Macron expressed hope that Ukraine will be able, in the coming phase, to reverse the balance of power in its favor, in order to force a return to the negotiating table. The Ukrainians, along with others in Europe, are instead operating under the logic of total victory; that is to say, the recovery of the territories occupied since 2014, including Crimea.

Photo of Volodymyr Zelensky and Emmanuel Macron

Zelensky Addresses EU Parliament In Brussels


Battlefield truths

Thus it comes down to a difference of opinion on the definition of victory; and that is what Emmanuel Macron meant by his phrase: "crushing Russia is not, and never will be, France's objective." He is responding to those who, especially among the former communist countries of Europe, mix support for Ukraine and deep resentment towards their former Russian master.

This divergence does not pose a major problem right now, as everyone is now on the same page in pledging maximum support for Ukraine. It will arise if a negotiation becomes possible at the end of the next phases of fighting, on the terms of the negotiation, but also on its very principle.

This first anniversary of the Russian invasion is only one more step. The truly decisive moment is likely to arrive this summer — that's when the truth of the war will have spoken on the battlefield, and redefined the balance of power.

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Photograph of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol saluting troopsas part of the country’s first military parade in a decade, which showcased an arsenal of advanced weaponry in the streets of Seoul.​

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol saluting troops as part of the country’s first military parade in a decade.

Michelle Courtois, Valeria Berghinz and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 Goedemorgen!*

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