Macron shows his politics on Russia are bush league
What’s wrong with French President Emmanuel Macron? First, he needlessly tells Russian dictator Vladimir Putin that there are two conditions under which France might cease supplying weapons to Ukraine: “We will never compromise the ability of our army to defend our own territory and our citizens. We will also never supply such weapons that would make us a party to the conflict as a result of their use for attacks on Russian territory.”
One doesn’t have to be a Metternich to appreciate that it’s unwise to tell your enemies what you will or will not do before you enter into negotiations with them. The smart thing is to keep the adversary in the dark, guessing about your intentions. What Macron did was simply bush league, evidence of either arrogance or ignorance or both. Then, a little later, he outdid himself when he proclaimed: “We need to prepare what we are ready to do, how we protect our allies and member states, and how to give guarantees to Russia the day it returns to the negotiating table. … One of the essential points we must address — as President Putin has always said — is the fear that NATO comes right up to its doors, and the deployment of weapons that could threaten Russia.”
This statement is inane. For starters, let’s remind the French president that, with Finland’s admission into NATO, the alliance has come right up to Russia’s door and that the strategic nuclear weapons that could threaten Putin’s realm are primarily based, and will continue to be based, in the United States, the United Kingdom and — oh, yes — France. Deploying nukes on the Finnish border may send a signal of NATO’s toughness, but it effectively does nothing to enhance Russia’s insecurity or the West’s security. And everybody knew, and knows, that the West would have to be completely daft to base nuclear weapons in, of all places, Ukraine, which isn’t a NATO member.
Moreover, both Putin and Macron know full well that the armies that come under the NATO umbrella are, with the exception of those of the United States, United Kingdom and Poland, in miserable shape, having been severely neglected since the fall of the Berlin wall. America may pose a threat to Russia, but NATO does not. That Russians insist that it does is either self-serving propaganda meant to justify Putin’s militarism, imperialism and fascism or delusional paranoia rooted in Putin’s worldview that pits Russia against the world. Either way, the West needs to counter collective Russia’s mendacity or fantasies, not with mollycoddling but with straightforward explanations of reality.
But what really takes the cake in Macron’s statement about security guarantees for Russia is its silence about security guarantees for Ukraine — an issue on which France thus far has been notably silent. Surely, one can’t provide guarantees to a self-styled great power with a huge nuclear arsenal without at the same time providing guarantees to the country that it has invaded and subjected to a genocidal war. Now, Macron has also expressed his unwavering commitment to Ukraine, so it’s highly unlikely that he intends to sell Ukraine down the river while providing guarantees to Russia. No, it’s the incoherence of his thinking that is most striking — and alarming. He’s the president of a powerful and influential country. He should know that guaranteeing Russia’s security is infinitely harder than guaranteeing Ukraine’s, and since Europe isn’t all too keen on the latter, how can he reasonably expect it to be keen on the former?
Besides, just how does one guarantee the security of an imperialistic, warmongering, fascist state ruled by a leader who seems delusional? The comparison with Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia is unavoidable. Imagine Adolf Hitler’s insistence in 1939, just before his attack on Poland, on security guarantees. Or Joseph Stalin’s insistence in 1948, after the Communist takeover of Eastern Europe, of similar guarantees. Just what could such guarantees possibly have entailed? And wouldn’t the priority be to guarantee the security of the countries being threatened?
Hélas, Monsieur le Président needs to go back to his books and do a bit of thinking. Otherwise, he risks becoming risible, hardly the quality that would guarantee his security as president or his ability to deal with the Putin threat.
Alexander J. Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers University-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia and the USSR, and on nationalism, revolutions, empires and theory, he is the author of 10 books of nonfiction, as well as “Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires” and “Why Empires Reemerge: Imperial Collapse and Imperial Revival in Comparative Perspective.”