"Neither Side Can Have Total Victory" — Emmanuel Macron's Exclusive Interview On Ukraine
Returning from this weekend's Munich Security Conference, French President told France Inter public radio: "I do not think that Russia should be defeated completely, or attacked on its soil. These observers want above all to crush Russia. This has never been the position of France and it never will be."
PARIS — Helping Ukraine to tip the balance of power in its favor, then negotiating with Russia: on the eve of the first anniversary of the outbreak of the Russian invasion, French President Emmanuel Macron is once again making his difference on the war in Ukraine heard.
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In an interview with journalists from France Inter,Le Figaro and Le Journal du Dimanche, on his return from this weekend's Munich Security Conference, the French President made it clear that he does not share the views of those who want to make Russia and its President Vladimir Putin pay, or even crush them.
"I want Russia's defeat in Ukraine, and I want Ukraine to be able to defend its position. But I am convinced that in the end, the conflict will not be settled militarily. I do not think, as some people do, that Russia should be defeated completely, or attacked on its soil. These observers want above all to crush Russia. This has never been the position of France and it never will be."
Macron adds that: "neither side can have total victory. Neither Ukraine, nor Russia, because the effects of mobilization are not as great as expected, and its capacity remains limited."
On several occasions since the beginning of the conflict, Emmanuel Macron has drawn criticism from the countries of Eastern Europe, and sometimes even from Ukraine, for having continued his discussions with Putin beyond what they consider to be reasonable, or for having declared that Russia should not be humiliated.
This time he has found a balance in the formulation of his difference which allowed him, on Friday, to expose it at the Munich Conference, and even in meetings with Eastern leaders, without provoking the same reactions. He can say this all the more easily because he has not had contact with Vladimir Putin for more than five months.
Can we still speak to Putin?
Everyone is now in agreement, in Europe and the Western camp, on the first part of the proposal: Ukraine must be helped, as massively as the difficulties of arms production allow. The objective is to enable the Ukrainian army to resist the Russian offensive that is coming, and even to carry out counter-offensives as it has done in the past.
The next few weeks, until the summer, will therefore be decisive, as both sides will want to score decisive points.
All the options other than Vladimir Putin within the current system seem worse to me.
It is in the second phase that it gets complicated. For Macron, “what is needed today is for Ukraine to carry out a military offensive that disrupts the Russian front in order to trigger a return to negotiations.” He obviously rules out any idea of revenge in the settlement.
A position to which he clings all the more because he knows that neither Americans or Europeans want to send ground troops to Ukraine, which, according to him, is the only condition for a military victory.
Is Putin still a valid interlocutor to negotiate with when the day comes? The French President prefers to be realistic: "Do we sincerely believe that a democratic solution will emerge from the Russian civil society present there after these years of hardening and in the midst of conflict? I sincerely hope so, but I don't really believe in it... And all the options other than Vladimir Putin within the current system seem worse to me."
For example, if the head of the Kremlin was replaced by one of the heads of the security apparatus, Nikolai Patrushev, or Wagner Group boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Emmanuel Macron seems to consider that only Vladimir Putin has, in the end, the capacity to "sell" to his people the product of a negotiation that would be unfavorable to him as a victory. It is this reasoning that guides him, even if many Eastern Europeans will disagree with him.
Ukrainian troops in Zaporizhzhia Region
At the Munich Conference, attended by over 40 heads of state and government officials, Macron pleaded for Europe to rearm so that it would be credible; but above all, to produce its own weapons instead of buying them off the shelf (read: from the Americans!) He even suggested, during a dinner with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Polish President Andrzej Duda, that Poland should join the Franco-German "tank of the future" project, as Poland is set to invest massively in its defense.
"Europe will be all the more easily respected if it has weapons. " he said. "It is also a way to accelerate the European component of NATO."
This war has been tormenting us for almost a year now and it has had a huge impact on Europe, the 27 have shown a rather remarkable unity in their support for Ukraine (with the notable exception of Viktor Orban's Hungary).
But, at the same time, real fault lines have appeared: the "old" countries of the Union, Germany and France, have been sometimes harshly criticized for their reluctance in dealing with Russia, by countries that had been dominated by the USSR and hold onto a very strong feelings of resentment. This discrepancy of emotions and perceptions weighs on the future of the Union.
Macron's way of politely telling Eastern Europeans not to dwell on their historical traumas.
Emmanuel Macron concedes this, but believes that the 27 must not let themselves be dominated by the weight of this history. "I think we need to digest the Soviet and Russian history of the 20th century, which we have not fully done. But the only way to make peace in Europe is to put this history of empire behind us. The one who has not understood this is Putin! We Europeans must build this European sovereignty which alone will ensure our independence and our security."
It's Macron's way of politely telling Eastern Europeans not to dwell on their historical traumas, and to look into the future with the rest of the 27.
Ukraine is therefore serving as a political revelation, and the way in which this war will be concluded will leave its mark in Europe and in the world. By making his difference heard, Emmanuel Macron is laying down a marker: history will soon decide.