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Geopolitics

Total turnaround of France towards Ukraine [OPINION]

Szkolenie wojsk ukraińskich w ramach działań międzynarodowych, Polska 2023
Photo. Jacek Raubo, Defence24

For the past two years, Paris has been gradually and slowly shifting its focus towards Kyiv and distancing itself from Moscow. While it is true that the French, well-versed in the art of diplomacy, were initially reluctant to shut the cooperation with Russians, their main goal now is to strengthen collaboration with Ukraine and focus on developing European security. The war on the eastern borders of the EU and NATO, along with emerging challenges in Africa, led to a redefinition of French foreign policy.

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President Macron, in the first few months of the war in Ukraine, cautiously spoke about the Russian Federation and Vladimir Putin. However, Kremlin’s lack of willingness for dialogue and increasingly brutal actions towards civilians prompted Paris to provide military aid and humanitarian assistance. With each passing month, support for Kyiv increased, often provided discreetly.

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Breaking ties with Russia was incredibly challenging for France, involving not only significant private sector contracts that largely (though not entirely) abandoned the Russian market but also arms sales and strong political cooperation. It’s worth noting that Paris tried to stay close to Moscow until the last moment, avoiding involvement in the conflict in Ukraine. However, the advancing Russian offensive, Russia’s covert actions against France in Africa, and commitments to the EU and NATO proved to be more significant.

Neutrality was an option only for a certain period, and France had to take a side. With increasing deliveries of weapons, financial, logistical, intelligence, and diplomatic support, and now with the signing of a security agreement, the picture of the bilateral relationship is clear – it’s all about Ukraine for France.

Growing Role of France

French leaders have been escalating their rhetoric against Russia, with Macron explicitly talking about „defeating Russia,” „Russia destroying the world,” „the criminal regime of the Kremlin,” and asserting that „there is no place for Russia.” He emphasizes „unbeatable and proud Ukraine,” pledges „total support for Ukraine’s independence,” and stresses the „need to pave the way for Ukraine to join NATO.” This marks a significant evolution in France’s approach.

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In military terms, France has provided substantial support to Ukraine: 1.7 billion in 2022, 2.1 billion in 2023, and a promised 3 billion in 2024. While Paris seeks to meet Kyiv’s expectations and prove critics wrong about insufficient support, it still avoids detailed descriptions of where and when the funds were allocated. France continues to withhold specifics on deliveries, including optoelectronics, ammunition, missiles, radars, and individual soldier equipment.

France has already delivered significant amounts of equipment to Ukraine, including 30 Caesar artillery systems, about 40 AMX-10 RC tanks, 250 VAB transporters, 5 Mistral anti-aircraft systems, 17 light Milan infantry anti-tank missiles, 2 Crotale air defense systems, and over a hundred SCALP missiles. Additionally, several hundred soldiers (including pilots) have been trained, and continuous military-political support is provided, with consultations from the Minister of Defense Lecornu, initially with Zaluzny and now with Syrski.

Competition for Supremacy in the EU

French assistance is still contested in comparison to Germany’s support. Berlin has pledged 8 billion euros for 2024, more than twice the amount committed by Paris. Germany also commits to significant involvement in Ukraine’s reconstruction and further training for Ukrainian soldiers. Additionally, Taurus missiles are expected to be part of the military support. France’s aid is also overshadowed by that of the United Kingdom and the United States, with Estonia dominating in terms of GDP.

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One of the main topics of discussion is the Mirage 2000 D, of which France has about 60. Paris indicates that it will be challenging for Ukraine to implement them, while Kyiv emphasizes that any reinforcement of air capabilities is crucial. Although the Élysée Palace has not specified how it will „transfer” its 3 billion euros, a significant portion is expected to be in the form of artillery.

New Dynamics

President Zelensky visited Paris in mid-February, and Macron’s visit to Kyiv is still pending but is expected by the end of March at the latest. The priority is for France to mark its position as a key ally of Ukraine and reinforce its role as the leader in European security. Recent talks about cooperation with Poland and mentions of a „nuclear umbrella” aim to emphasize France’s role and allow President Macron to achieve his long-desired goal of becoming the guarantor of Europe’s security.

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France is reevaluating its foreign policy significantly, not only in relation to Ukraine but also in Africa, the Middle East, and its goals in the Indo-Pacific region. It would be beneficial for NATO and the EU, if Paris becomes more engaged on the eastern flank, as it signifies additional strength in competition with the Russian Federation. France is also an interesting ally for Poland, and recent relations have been more than favorable.

However, it’s essential to remember Paris’s diplomatic skills and experience, as well as its famous pragmatism. France engages where it sees benefits, and the romanticism of collaboration can end as quickly as it began. For now, let’s appreciate this openness and leverage French commitment, as it is a power with potential (in many areas) that could be crucial in the coming months.

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