WSJ reveals how Macron tried to push Biden and Scholz to adopt tougher approach towards Putin

Wednesday, 3 April 2024

French President Emmanuel Macron held confidential conversations with US President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in February in a bid to persuade them to change the West's strategy in Russia's war against Ukraine.

As reported by The Wall Street Journal, Macron believes that Western countries should take a position of strategic ambiguity towards Russia, leaving all options on the table, including military ones.

This idea represents a fundamental shift from the stance taken by the Biden administration since the beginning of the full-scale war.

Washington's approach was aimed at avoiding actions that could provoke Moscow and lead to an escalation of the war. In contrast, Macron sought to end the broadcasting of the limits of Western intervention – the West’s so-called "red lines" – and instead leave the Kremlin guessing.

The unnamed officials said Biden cast doubt on the need for a change in strategy amid concerns that it could lead to escalation. Scholz also opposed the idea, arguing it risked dividing allies and making NATO countries a party to the conflict.

In February, Macron called Biden and Scholz to inform them that he wanted to use the upcoming summit in Paris to send a message to Putin. Macron said Western capitals should stop ruling out military options, telling the leaders he wanted to unveil a new approach after the summit.

Scholz replied that if Macron did so publicly, the chancellor and other leaders would be forced to reject him. Officials said he strongly advised Macron against the move, saying it could create a sense of disunity among allies.

The prospect of deploying Western personnel to Ukraine, whether civilian or military, has raised the thorny issue of how allies should respond should one of them be killed in a Russian strike.

One US official said the Biden administration was concerned that Russia might target any French troops that might be sent to Ukraine. This could allegedly drag France and possibly other Western countries into the war.

However, Macron has indicated to allies that no NATO or US involvement would be called for if Russia targets French troops, the official said. For example, France has suffered losses in military campaigns in Africa without seeking help from allies.

Tensions reached a peak when Slovak PM Robert Fico, Chancellor Scholz, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs James O'Brien and other leaders arrived at the Élysée Palace on 26 February. Macron shared his views on the need for strategic ambiguity.

Sitting next to him, the French president asked Scholz to comment. Officials said Scholz strongly opposed the idea. One by one, the leaders of the Netherlands, Poland and Greece spoke up and politely rejected the idea. The Estonian prime minister supported Macron, arguing that leaders should stop discussing what they will not do in a war and focus on what they will do.

Despite the overwhelming opposition at the summit, Macron nevertheless said in a conversation with journalists that although there was no consensus on sending troops, "nothing should be ruled out".

Bloomberg reported that Macron's statements about the possible deployment of foreign troops to Ukraine had angered US officials, who privately fear that such a move could lead to a clash with Russia.

Despite the controversy surrounding his remarks about the possible deployment of Western troops to Ukraine, Macron refused to back down, insisting that his statements had been well thought through, but also stressing that France would not follow the "logic of escalation" in its relations with Moscow.

Subsequentlycommenting on the idea he raised, Macron stressed that if such a scenario were to be implemented, French forces would not go on the offensive against Russia.

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