It’s hard to admit, but Macron is beating Britain on Ukraine

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 6 March 2024. © Richard Kemp

In his remarkable speech in Prague, Emmanuel Macron displayed the kind of leadership every Western country has failed to deliver since Russia invaded Ukraine two years ago. From the start Nato governments fell over themselves to reassure Putin that they posed no threat to Russia while he repeatedly threatened to escalate even to the point of nuclear sabre rattling.

Terrified of provoking the bear, US and European leaders half-heartedly sanctioned Moscow and supplied only enough weaponry to allow Ukraine to stay fighting but insufficient to give it a real chance of driving Russia back. Every long range weapon that was provided was accompanied by strict caveats against their use on sovereign Russian territory while Moscow freely launched assaults wherever it wanted against Ukraine.

That policy was bare-facedly verified in the phone conversation by German Luftwaffe generals revealed this week when they made clear that Taurus long range missiles would not be provided in sufficient numbers to change the trajectory of the hostilities.

Above all, until Macron’s course correction, every leader made it clear that there would be no Nato boots on the ground in Ukraine despite Russian boots trampling wherever they could. In other words they left Putin in no doubt that he had a free run and need not factor in unexpected military intervention from the West.

Even the most junior officer cadet at Sandhurst could tell you that is no way to fight a war and certainly no way to impose deterrence. And deterrence is one of Nato’s most critical functions. Well, it failed in that from the outset, especially after handing victory in Afghanistan to the Taliban in 2021, which flashed a green light to Putin to do as he pleased.

It then ensured the green light stayed shining bright by repeatedly telling Putin what it would not do rather than hinting at what it might do or at least leaving him guessing.

In his remarks in recent days Macron has at least made a start at changing that, holding out the prospect of deploying forces into Ukraine and introducing the first note of strategic ambiguity that we have seen from anywhere in the Atlantic Alliance.

Putin’s reaction to Macron’s new stance, repeated in Prague, was entirely predictable: yet another empty threat of nuclear retaliation to add to his tiresomely long list. Nato members’ pusillanimous reactions were equally reproachable. From Washington to Brussels to London they all shook in their shoes, each trying to outdo the others in distancing themselves from what they saw as Macron’s dangerous bellicosity.

With Russian forces again rampant and no remaining capability to launch a significant counter offensive any time soon, Ukraine is in a dire situation. Macron now seems to recognise the danger this presents to the whole of Europe and indeed the free world. Introducing uncertainty to Putin’s strategic calculations is a definite step forward but it must be followed up with a concerted effort to provide Ukraine with the munitions it so badly needs as well as assistance in regenerating heavily depleted troop levels.

Will the other Nato leaders now keep clinging to the ‘spirit of defeat’ that Macron describes or will they realise they must get behind his ‘strategic leap forward’?

Image: European Parliament/Flickr