Macron says sending Nato ground troops to Ukraine should not be ruled out

Macron says sending Nato ground troops to Ukraine should not be ruled out
“We will do everything needed so Russia cannot win the war,” Macron told reporters. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews February 27, 2024

Russia presents an ever greater threat to Europe and the use of Nato ground troops in Ukraine should not be ruled out, said French President Emmanual Macron at a hastily called summit of European leaders in Paris on February 26.

Macron said there was no consensus to send ground troops but added,  “nothing should be excluded”, news agencies reported. “We will do everything needed so Russia cannot win the war,” he told reporters.

Macron warned: “There is a change in Russia’s stance. It is striving to take on further territory and it has its eyes not just on Ukraine but on many other countries as well, so Russia is presenting a greater danger.”

The French president – who is more and more taking the lead in European policy towards Russia and Eastern Europe – called the meeting following Ukrainian setbacks in its defence against Russian aggression, as well as the continued obstruction of US aid to Kyiv by Republican lawmakers in Congress.

There is now a greater sense of urgency about the need for Europe to step up its game, particularly given the possibility that US aid could be cut off if former US president Donald Trump returns to power in January 2025. 

“We cannot wait for the outcome of the American elections to decide what our future is going to be,” Macron said. “It is the future of Europe that is at stake so therefore it is up to the Europeans to decide. If others want to join in and help, fantastic, but that is just an added bonus.”

France has traditionally been much more supportive of building up the European defence pillar than countries such as Germany and the highly pro-American states of Central Europe such as Poland, who fear this might weaken US commitment. But now Europe is united behind plans to increase defence spending and build up its defence industry to help Ukraine and meet the Russian threat.

Ukraine is currently on the back foot as it is struggling with shortages of manpower and ammunition. Europe is unlikely to supply manpower in the near future – though there is speculation that special forces and advisers to help operate Western weapons systems may already be operating, and Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said before the summit that some countries were considering bilateral deployments.

To meet the ammunition shortages, the EU promised to supply one million rounds of ammunition by the end of March. However, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told the summit by video link that the alliance had failed to deliver. “Out of a million shells that the European Union promised us, it was not 50% but unfortunately 30% that were delivered,” Zelinskiy said.

The EU is ramping up production but there remains a short-term shortage. EU Commissioner Thierry Breton said the EU now had the capacity to produce more than 1 million rounds of ammunition a year, and this would reach 1.5mn by the end of 2024 and 2mn next year.

Macron said the provision of ammunition was now the “top priority” and for the first time he backed a Czech plan to buy surplus ammunition stocks outside Europe to hand to Ukraine.

Paris had previously insisted that EU defence aid to Ukraine should be spent inside the bloc in order to boost European defence production.

Czech President Petr Pavel told the Munich Security Conference earlier this month that the country had identified 800,000 artillery shells that could be purchased immediately from outside the EU if the bloc provided the funds. Czechia has said €1.5bn would be needed.

At the Paris summit, Dutch Prime Minister (and likely future Nato secretary-general) Mark Rutte said the Netherlands will contribute €100m to the Czech initiative. Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said that in total some 15 countries had shown interest in contributing to the initiative.

Macron also repeated his support for an Estonian plan for the EU to issue €100bn in defence eurobonds to guarantee long-term defence markets for industry, something that Germany has so far resisted.

The summit agreed to build a new coalition to provide long and medium-range strike missile capability. France and the UK last year donated scores of Storm Shadow and Scalp cruise missiles, which have a range of 250km.

However, this news was overshadowed by a firm statement by German chancellor Olaf Scholz that he opposed sending Ukraine Taurus cruise missiles, which have a range of 500km.

“This is a very long-range weapon, and what the British and French are doing in terms of targeting and supporting targeting cannot be done in Germany,” Scholz said.

He argued that restricting Taurus’ range would require German soldiers to operate in Ukraine, which would risk Germany becoming directly involved in the war. “[Germany] must not be linked at any point or in any place to the goals that this [weapon] system achieves,” Scholz said.

The summit agreed to focus on the defence of countries directly threatened by Russia such as Moldova, greater military protection for Ukraine on its border with Belarus, cyber defence, joint production of military weapons and ammunition inside Ukraine, and the demining of Ukraine.

Macron said the agreement on greater military protection for Ukraine on its border with Belarus and de-mining might require the deployment of some troops to Ukraine. “If these points were to be fully implemented, we can’t rule out the possibility that they might need to be secured, which would then justify some elements of deployment,” he said, Politico reported.