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Macron’s Ambiguity on Ukraine Backfires as Allies Balk at Troops

Macron’s Ambiguity on Ukraine Backfires as Allies Balk at Troops

European leaders rejected the prospect of sending combat troops to Ukraine, undercutting French President Emmanuel Macron’s promise to do whatever it takes to keep Russia from winning the war. 

At an informal gathering of European leaders in Paris on Monday, Macron proposed sending more personnel to Ukraine in limited areas, according to people familiar with the discussions, and refused to rule out putting boots on the ground. “There’s currently no consensus to send ground troops in an official and open way,” he said. “But in terms of dynamics, nothing can be ruled out.”

During the summit, there was no discussion about sending European soldiers directly into the battle field, but Macron’s comments helped foster strategic ambiguity, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Such a move, however, would directly put NATO in a fight with Russia.

Macron called the gathering in a show of support for Ukraine at a delicate moment in the war, and to underscore Western determination to help it win. Following the meeting, he said: “We will do everything we can to prevent Russia from winning the war.”

Asked about NATO troops being sent to Ukraine, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it would mean the “inevitability” of conflict, and Western countries should evaluate if such a move “corresponds with their interests,” according to the Interfax news service.

Macron told reporters that the European Union leaders present agreed to take action in five areas, including de-mining operations, supporting Ukraine on its border with Belarus with non-military forces, cyber defense and the co-production of weapons in Ukraine, as well as defending countries like Moldova, which are threatened by Russia’s offensive in Ukraine.

Some NATO allies already quietly send some advisers and trainers to help Ukrainian forces handle western equipment, but sending more coordinated groups of personnel to aid in Ukraine’s defense would amount to a major step by allies.

Those groups may need to be defended, “which would then justify some elements of deployment,” Macron said. That could create added risk where allies may have to fire directly on Russian forces to protect their personnel. Other major training programs by European and other allies so far have taken place outside of Ukraine.

The confusion over the European stance risked overshadowing the actual results of the meeting, where a plan to purchase ammunition outside of Europe gained momentum.

While Ukraine is in dire need of more soldiers to help it fend off Russian advances, sending allied troops to directly fight on Ukraine’s behalf is still vehemently rejected by allies who fear being roped into a wider war with a nuclear power. NATO says it has no plans to send troops to Ukraine.

“What was agreed among us from the start still applies for the future, namely that there will be no ground troops, no soldiers on Ukrainian territory sent there by European nations or NATO nations,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told reporters Tuesday. “And that soldiers deployed by our countries don’t actively take part themselves in the war.”

But in contrast to Scholz’s clear rebuff, Macron’s comments were a form of strategic ambiguity, aimed at Russian President Vladimir Putin, to signal allies wouldn’t walk back their support for Kyiv, French officials said. With Russian forces trying to capitalize on Ukraine’s desperate ammunition shortages, allies have been struggling to shore up support — including with a Czech plan to start purchasing artillery shells outside of the EU.

In an apparent dig at France and other countries who’ve been criticized for not sending Kyiv enough aid, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk on Tuesday in Prague echoed Scholz in saying his country wouldn’t send soldiers to Ukraine.

“If all EU countries were engaged in Ukraine to the same level as Poland and the Czech Republic, then we probably wouldn’t need to talk about other forms of help,” Tusk said.

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