Hawkish Macron finds favour in Nato’s frontline states

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French President Emmanuel Macron was right to keep Russia guessing about the limits of western support for Kyiv when he floated the possibility of sending troops to Ukraine, Finland’s foreign minister has said.

Elina Valtonen told the Financial Times: “Now’s not the time to send boots on the ground and we are not even willing to discuss it at this stage. But for the long term, of course we shouldn’t be ruling anything out.”

Valtonen’s remarks, echoed by leaders and officials in the Baltic states, underscore how Macron has found favour with Nato’s frontline members after his recent pivot on Russia and his warnings that Moscow’s defeat in Ukraine is paramount to Europe’s security.

For decades, France was viewed with deep suspicion in much of central and eastern Europe for ignoring the region’s security interests in its courtship of the Kremlin.

Even after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and evidence of widespread war crimes, Macron said Russia should not be “humiliated”.

He has since concluded Russia poses an existential threat to the EU and to French security.

Elina Valtonen: ‘Why would we . . . disclose all our cards?’ © Mauri Ratilainen/EPA-EFE

The French president stunned his allies in February when he disclosed he might be willing to deploy combat forces to thwart a Russian victory over Ukraine. He said he was trying to re-establish “strategic ambiguity” towards Moscow.

However, Germany, the US and UK swiftly ruled out troop deployments, which Macron’s critics said negated the ambiguity he was trying to create.

Valtonen said it was not at all a mistake to keep Russia guessing about what Ukraine’s supporters would be prepared to do.

“Why would we, especially not knowing where this war will go and what happens in the future, disclose all our cards? I really wouldn’t know.”

Ingrida Šimonytė, prime minister of Lithuania, has also spoken favourably about Macron’s attempt to create “strategic ambiguity”.

“What I liked about two recent announcements of President Macron is that he said that actually why should we impose ourselves red lines when Putin basically has no red lines?”

“In the absence of Churchillian thinking, [Macron] is making the wisest move, said Žygimantas Pavilionis, head of the foreign affairs committee of Lithuania’s parliament. “He hears us. He understands us.”

Estonia’s foreign minister Margus Tsahkna said Macron’s intervention had “woken up a bit the leaders of Europe — instead of putting boots on the ground it is safer to send weapons and money” to Ukraine.

“It makes Putin concerned about what Europe can actually do. This out of the box thinking is useful.”

Finland and the Baltic states are also coalescing around traditional French ideas for the EU to play a bigger role in joint military procurement and defence industry collaboration, with a budget to back it up.

Macron has credited Estonian prime minister Kaja Kallas for spearheading calls for the EU to issue common debt for defence. Even Finland, a traditional frugal state opposed to EU borrowing, appears to be on board.

“We don’t have anything against it,” Valtonen said. “If we decide that we want to spend €100bn collectively on ramping up our defence and we want to issue a bond to fund it then it’s got nothing to do with frugality.”

But there are still big differences. The Baltic states remain sceptical about beefing up the EU’s role in defence at the expense of Nato despite doubts over the US commitment to the alliance should Donald Trump return to the White House.

“Rhetoric coming from European leaders that we can’t rely on the Americans just gives additional material to Trump,” said Rihards Kols, head of the foreign affairs committee of the Latvian parliament.

Valtonen said EU defence industry collaboration should be open to all Nato members and not just EU countries, a red line for Paris.

Baltic and Finnish officials say France is regaining the confidence of the region through its more robust support of Ukraine as well as its troop presence in Estonia and Romania. Paris has sent long-range Scalp cruise missiles to Kyiv and powerful AASM smart bombs. It also pressed for Ukraine to be given a clearer path to Nato membership but was rebuffed by the US and Germany at the alliance’s summit in July last year.

But officials and diplomats questioned whether France could be doing more in practical terms to help Ukraine. A European ambassador to the Baltics said he admired Macron’s “grande geste” to Ukraine but questioned whether France always followed through on its rhetorical promises. Several Baltic officials said they had more confidence in Germany’s growing contribution to regional security than in France or Britain’s.

One Baltic military official said Macron had created the “first strategic dilemma for Russia” but that his statement was “thin” and that, it appeared, France had not thought through the next steps.

“The momentum is there to declare Ukraine must win. But it begs the question after two years: what are you going to do about it?”

“France and Macron really have a mountain to climb in terms of regaining credibility,” said Tomas Jermalavičius, a research fellow at the International Centre for Defence and Security in Tallinn.

“We like the new spirit of Macron . . . but dealing with our own instinctive distrust towards French collective instincts about Russia will take time.”


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