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European leaders wary after Macron's Ukraine troop comments

February 27, 2024

Several European countries have rejected the possibility of sending troops to Ukraine after the French president said "nothing should be ruled out." Russia, for its part, says it would make war with NATO inevitable.

French President Emmanuel Macron, center, delivers a speech at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is seated at his side.
Macron's comments in Paris late on Monday prompted reactions from much of Europe on TuesdayImage: Gonzalo Fuentes/AP/picture alliance

There were uneasy reactions from European allies of Ukraine on Tuesday after French President Emmanuel Macron said it could not be ruled out that Western ground troops are sent to Ukraine to help it defend itself against the Russian invasion.

His remarks came as Russian troops seem to be having growing successes on the battlefield, while Ukraine's armed forces increasingly have to contend with shortages of munitions and weapons.

EU leaders against deploying troops to Ukraine

What did Macron say?

After a conference on Ukraine he hosted on Monday in Paris, Macron said that "everything that is necessary" had to be done to avoid a Russian victory, saying Moscow's defeat was "indispensable to security and stability in Europe."  

He added that although there was "no consensus" among European leaders that their countries should deploy troops in Ukraine, "nothing should be ruled out" in a dynamic situation such as this.

"We will do whatever it takes to ensure that Russia cannot win this war," Macron added.

He also called on Europe to assume more of a leadership role on the issue given the upcoming US presidential elections in November, where Donald Trump appears the likely Republican candidate and amid questions on what that the result might mean for US support for Kyiv.

Macron's prime minister, Gabriel Attal, on Tuesday sought to clarify Macron's remarks while visiting the Paris International Agricultural Show.

Attal recalled that two years ago, several countries were still ruling out sending arms of any kind to Ukraine, even those used exclusively for defense. Much had changed in those two years, Attal said.

"Today, we are sending long-range missiles to support the Ukrainians in the face of this aggression," he said.

Macron had similarly listed various steps that European leaders had once deemed impossible or improbable, like sending tanks to Ukraine, when saying nothing should be categorically ruled out.

What have been the reactions?

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Defense Minister Boris Pistorius were categorical in their rejection of the idea of deploying troops to Ukraine.

Scholz even seemed to suggest the issue had not been discussed at Monday's meeting, an impression not given by Macron or Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, who said there was disunity on the issue among the European leaders.

"What was agreed from the beginning among ourselves and with each other also applies to the future, namely that there will be no soldiers on Ukrainian soil sent there by European states or NATO states," Scholz told journalists.

Germany's Scholz rules out Western ground troops for Ukraine

Pistorius delivered a flat-out rejection, telling a news conference with his Austrian counterpart, Klaudia Tanner: "Boots on the ground is not an option for the Federal Republic of Germany."

Speaking to DW on Tuesday, German member of parliament Marcus Faber of the Free Democrats (FDP), the most junior of the ruling coalition partners, also dismissed the idea of western European troops being deployed to Ukraine.

"It's important for all concerned that we don't become one of the warring parties," he said. "No troops from France or anywhere else will be sent to Ukraine to fight the invading Russian forces. That would be a step which would make us a warring party, an entry into the war which absolutely nobody wants."

Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson of Sweden, which will soon be a NATO member, also said that deploying troops was "not on the cards at all for the moment."

Spain, Poland and the Czech Republic have also said they have no plans to send soldiers to Ukraine, while the UK said it had no plans for a "large-scale" deployment beyond the small number of British troops already aiding Ukrainian forces, for instance training medics.

Warning tones from Moscow

The Kremlin, for its part, warned that a Russia-NATO conflict could not be avoided if alliance troops took part in the Ukraine conflict.

Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that if NATO troops were deployed in Ukraine, "we need to speak not about a possibility but of the inevitability" of confrontation.

"This is absolutely not in the interests of these countries, they should be aware of this," he said.

tj/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)