Macron breaks taboo on Western troops in Ukraine

Published February 28, 2024
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a visit to Riyadh, on Tuesday.—AFP
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a visit to Riyadh, on Tuesday.—AFP

PARIS/KYIV: French President Emmanuel Macron has smashed a major taboo by floating the possibility of sending Western troops to Ukraine, raising the stakes in a showdown with a nuclear-armed Russia.

Hosting a conference of Euro­pean leaders on Monday night, the French leader refused to rule out the dispatch of Western troops to Ukraine as Russia’s invasion stretches into its third year and Kyiv’s military campaign appears to be faltering.

“We will do whatever it takes to ensure that Russia cannot win this war,” Macron added. A European military source, who asked not to be named, said that European allies had been studying the plan for several weeks and the United States supported the idea.

While Macron did not provide any details, the French foreign ministry said the idea did not foresee French troops directly fighting against Russian forces in Ukraine. Speaking to reporters, Lithuanian Defence Minister Arvydas Anusauskas said: “We are talking about training missions, training components. Training.” When pressed whether it would be limited to instructors only, the minister said that he could not reveal the details because “this is still being discussed between the countries”.

Zelensky in Saudi Arabia to discuss prisoner swaps

Former senior Nato official Camille Grand said Macron’s statements were a “major political signal.” “The message is threefold: to the Ukrainians, we are saying that we are prepared to take risks alongside them. To Russia, this war is very important to us,” Grand said. “To the public, the stakes are so high that we can’t rule out this possibility.”

POW deal

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday said that he had arrived in Saudi Arabia to promote his peace plan and discuss potential prisoners of war exchanges.

Saudi Arabia maintains ties with both Moscow and Kyiv and has mediated between the two warring sides before, including a deal in September 2022 that freed over 200 captive Ukrainians.

“The kingdom’s leadership has already contributed to the release of our people. I am confident this meeting will also yield results,” Zelensky said on X, formerly Twitter.

“We will also discuss promising areas of economic cooperation and Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Ukraine’s reconstruction,” Zelen­sky added. He said the two sides would also hold dialogue on Ukraine’s “Peace Formula”, which calls for the full withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukrainian territory.

Saudi Arabia hosted talks on the Ukraine war last year in a bid to flex its diplomatic muscle, bringing together representatives from nearly 40 countries, but not Russia.

‘Poker game’

Monday’s announcement appe­ared to represent a turnaround for Macron, who has for many years sought to position himself as a top mediator between Russia and Ukraine.

Less than five years ago he hosted Putin at his Mediterranean residence and flew into Moscow in February 2022 in a last-minute bid to halt the dispatch of Russian troops across the border.

Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2024

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