From wooing to threatening: How Macron’s Russia policy changed – Politics


The President travels alone, but he takes the others with him. That’s the message spread by the Élysée Palace this weekend. Emmanuel Macron will fly to his Russian colleague Vladimir Putin on Monday and then to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday. The French President used the time before that for intra-European agreements. On Saturday he called British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš and also NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Macron’s team sums up the phone calls with the same formula: The president emphasized the “need for de-escalation and dialogue” in the Ukraine crisis. And: You stay in close contact with all partners and allies. For the Élysée, it is about presenting Macron as a negotiator with backing.

At the same time, Macron remains true to the role he’s found for himself since 2017. He started as a politician who leads, who shows where to go. He’s trying to fill the leadership vacuum he saw in the West at large, and particularly in Europe, during Donald Trump’s tenure. It is in keeping with his political style to take risks. “Disrupteur” is what Isabelle Lasserre calls him in her new book on Macron’s foreign policy: someone who disrupts, upsets, gets things moving. One who “wants to fill the holes that have opened up as a result of the reformation of the geopolitical balance of power”.

Putin also visited Macron’s summer residence

In Russia policy, this meant for Macron to go other ways, to build his own relationship with Putin. He established a separate security dialogue with Moscow and talked a lot with the Russian president. In 2017 he invited Putin to Versailles and used France’s royal backdrop to give the meeting the aura of a historic moment. In 2019, Putin then visited Macron at his summer residence on the Côte d’Azur.

Despite these advances, he was “not naive,” Macron said of his Russia policy. And indeed, right from the start, Macron felt what a ruthless opponent Putin is. Before the presidential election in 2017, he not only openly supported Macron’s far-right competitor Marine Le Pen, the Putin-friendly broadcaster Russia Today also spread the rumor that Macron was homosexual and living in a marriage of convenience. In addition, the email accounts of Macron’s campaign team were hacked from Russia to leak internal information.

None of this stopped Macron from believing that Putin’s “long-term project could be nothing but a partnership with the EU.” This is how Macron put it in 2019 in an interview with the Economist. “What other options does Putin have?” asked Macron, answering the question himself as if he could see inside Putin’s head. This needs a “political balance with Europe” and “respect”. Macron has the necessary freedom to approach Putin because France is not nearly as dependent on Moscow as Germany is economically and in terms of energy policy. And because the country traditionally keeps its distance from NATO. Moscow welcomed Macron’s energetic opposition to EU expansion in the Balkans.

Macron received a lot of criticism for this course, also because he was at the same time, in the same Economist-Interview that discredited NATO (“brain dead”). The accusation was that he was ultimately the Gaullist who, like most of his predecessors, was primarily guided by French interests; that he should not be trusted when it comes to Russia.

According to observers, Macron’s image of Russia has changed significantly in the meantime; it has become, as they say in Paris, “more realistic”. On the one hand, this disillusionment was caused by Putin himself, whose behavior in Europe and worldwide Macron no longer wants to accept. Especially since actions like the activities of the Kremlin-affiliated Russian Wagner mercenaries in Mali are aimed directly against French interests. On the other hand, Paris has noticed how irritated Eastern European NATO and EU partners like the Baltic states and Poland feel about a special Franco-Russian relationship.

Macron has responded by wanting to “Europeanize” Russia policy and synchronize it more closely with NATO. In close cooperation with the USA and Great Britain. Macron sees himself more than ever in a European leadership role, which explains his special commitment to the Russian crisis. Angela Merkel, Putin’s first contact in Europe in all the crises of the past few years, is gone. In addition, as the current EU Council President, Macron also has the necessary office to convey a European perspective on the Ukraine crisis. At the same time, through his active mediating role in the current conflict, he can demonstrate what he has been demanding for a long time: Europe can and should, if Macron has his way, strengthen its strategic independence in geopolitical issues.

The right accuses Macron of “nonexistent” on the international stage

Macron’s will to stop Putin’s ambitions is evident. In particular, he rejects Putin’s idea of ​​a “Yalta Europe,” a division into spheres of influence, as agreed by the Allies in Crimea during World War II. As early as November, he threatened Putin with “serious consequences” if his country invaded Ukraine. France is also offering to send soldiers to Romania to strengthen NATO there. In an interview shortly before the trip to Moscow however, the President once again raised doubts about his intentions. Russia is not concerned with Ukraine, he said, but with “clarifying the rules of coexistence with the EU and NATO.” The Russian security concerns are legitimate.

In the election campaign leading up to the presidential election in April, it should help Macron that voters see him as a politician of international weight. The leader of the right-wing Républicains, Christian Jacob, showed just how uncomfortable his opponents would be if Macron was a foreign politician. In a television interview on Friday, Jacob claimed that Macron was “completely non-existent on the international scene” and “didn’t show a single initiative” in the Ukraine crisis.


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