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Macron raises prospect of sending Western troops to Ukraine

Bernd Riegert in Paris
February 27, 2024

The French president hasn't ruled out the deployment of Western soldiers to Ukraine. His comments have sparked debate among allied Western countries, with Germany categorically rejecting the idea. Bernd Riegert reports.

Emmanuel Macron, in a dark suit, standing at a podium surrounded by French, EU, Ukrainian and other flags.
Macron did not expressly rule out the deployment of Western troops to UkraineImage: Gonzalo Fuentes/AFP/Getty Images

After an impromptu summit attended by representatives of 25 European governments as well as the US and Canada, Emmanuel Macron made statements seldom been heard from any Western politician since the start of Russia's war in Ukraine.

"We are resolved to do everything necessary, for as long as necessary," said the French president at a late-night news conference in Paris.

Until now, there has been much talk at numerous summits about assisting Ukraine and supporting the country with its defense. But "everything necessary"? Journalists were quick to ask Macron to clarify what this meant.

The president, who has increasingly staked his claim to a leadership role for France in supporting Ukraine, replied that nothing was being ruled out, including the deployment of ground troops and French soldiers. However, he immediately qualified this by saying that the discussion was still theoretical, and that there was still "no consensus" on the issue among the countries that had gathered in Paris. These included Germany, Poland, the United Kingdom, and the Baltic states.

Many people in suits sitting at laptops around a square of white tables with a space in the middle.
Accounts of the meeting differed, but Germany said there was agreement that Western troops would not be deployedImage: Gonzalo Fuentes/AFP/Getty Images

Later in the evening, Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico confirmed that the topic had indeed been discussed, and that some countries, including his own, had at least not ruled it out as a possibility.

Scholz reconfirms Germany will not send Taurus missiles

Unlike Fico, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz did not immediately comment on Macron's remarks. But at an event in Freiburg on Tuesday morning, Scholz contradicted Macron and Fico, saying there had been general agreement that no European soldiers would be sent to Ukraine.

It was clear Macron's remarks would trigger a discussion among the Western allies that until now has taken place behind closed doors, at best. However, the French president did not provide concrete details. Was he referring to combat troops, soldiers for logistical support, instructors or operators for the weapons systems supplied by the West?

Before arriving at the Ukraine conference, the German chancellor had again made clear that he would not supply the Ukrainian army with long-range Taurus cruise missiles from German stocks. Scholz warned that the UK and France, which are delivering shorter-range cruise missiles and target data, may be making themselves parties to the conflict.

Olaf Scholz speaking at the 2024 Munich Security Conference
Chancellor Olaf Scholz reaffirmed that Germany would not supply long-range missiles to UkraineImage: Johannes Simon/Getty Images

Scholz thus confirmed publicly for the first time that British and French soldiers are actively engaged in the defense against Russia by programming target data for cruise missiles. However, as far as is known, these soldiers are not stationed in Ukraine.

Macron indirectly criticizes hesitant Germany, NATO states

The chancellor's clear refusal to deliver cruise missiles indicated that he has also firmly rejected Macron's hinted deployment of Western soldiers in Ukraine. This would represent a new level of escalation, not only in the eyes of the German government.

In his press conference, the French president did not refrain from criticizing what he considered to be the hesitant stance of Germany and other EU and NATO states. "Many of those saying 'Never, never!' today are the same ones who said never tanks, never planes, never long-range missiles, two years ago," said Macron, referring to the start of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022.

Macron: Deployment of ground troops to Ukraine is an option

German politicians from both the co-governing party Greens and the opposition CDU rejected Macron's speculation about ground troops in radio interviews on Tuesday. And in Moscow, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov reacted as expected, saying that in the event of a deployment of Western troops, direct conflict between NATO and Russia would no longer be just a possibility, but inevitable.

Coalition to supply cruise missiles

After hosting a long dinner at the Elysee Palace, Macron also announced the formation of a coalition of the willing to deliver longer-range weapons and cruise missiles. It wasn't immediately clear which countries would take part, but it certainly sent a clear message to Germany that Macron is no longer prepared to wait for Scholz to change his mind about supplying Ukraine with Taurus missiles.

One possible work-around that appeared to be under consideration was a request for Germany to deliver the missiles to the UK and France, who could then supply them to Ukraine without German military involvement.

In Paris, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, whose country directly borders Russia, reiterated her proposal that the EU should take on collective debt, as a community of states, to finance the purchase of arms for Ukraine. German Finance Minister Christian Lindner had clearly rejected the suggestions of eurobonds or the assumption of joint debt for defense purposes at the EU finance ministers' meeting on Friday.

Macron: 'This war determines our future'

During the summit in Paris, there was also an extended discussion about a possible absence of the United States as the main arms supplier for Ukraine. Macron stated, no matter who wins the US election in November, "this war determines our future." It was about Europe, he said, which had to protect itself.

"We are convinced that Russia's defeat is essential for security and stability in Europe," he said.

Ukrainian soldiers fire Soviet-era artillery as Russia-Ukraine war continues
Ukraine has said it is still waiting for much of the ammunition promised by its allies months agoImage: Diego Herrera Carcedo/Anadolu/picture alliance

Until recently, France has insisted that European money should go to European — preferably French — arms manufacturers. Now, Macron has announced his support for a Czech initiative to purchase ammunition from beyond the continent, which aims to procure up to 800,000 artillery shells from third countries.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Monday that, so far, the EU had only delivered a third of the 1 million shells it had promised. Brussels had previously said it had delivered 500,000 rounds of ammunition.

A look at the numbers shows that France has not been among the biggest suppliers of weapons or ammunition to date. According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, the US and Germany are at the forefront in terms of absolute numbers, whereas the Baltic states and Denmark have spent the most in relation to their country's gross domestic product.

This article was originally written German.

Bernd Riegert
Bernd Riegert Senior European correspondent in Brussels with a focus on people and politics in the European Union