Ukraine: Macron slammed for making it ‘too easy for Putin
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The French election is looming and its main contender — though he has not yet made his candidacy official — is front and centre not only on domestic matters but also, not to say mainly, on foreign ones. But his actions are not synonymous with success, although that is, according to an expert in French Studies, what Mr Macron may think. Calling him a “self-appointed chief negotiator in a global crisis”, Professor James Shields accuses the young leader of “prematurely claiming success” when in talks with the Kremlin.
Prof Shields, from Warwick University, told Express.co.uk: “Macron has an activist, interventionist leadership style which can lead him to behave impetuously and to show a lack of political experience.”
That lack of experience, he suggested, could have led the French President to send signs of hope an invasion was still avoidable to both Ukraine and the West while in retrospect it seems a decision to escalate had most likely already been made.
After “last-ditch” talks with Vladimir Putin on Sunday, Mr Macron said a summit had been agreed “in principle” with the Russian president and US President Joe Biden in which they would discuss “security and strategic stability in Europe”.
Separately, he managed to arrange trilateral talks between Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE.
But Mr Putin’s recognition on Monday of rebel-held territories Donetsk and Luhansk as independent entities, followed by troops entering the two regions, meant none of those conversations got to happen.
Prof Shields said: “Macron has suffered two humiliations at the hands of Putin in the past few weeks – misreading Russia’s intentions towards Ukraine and being forced to withdraw French anti-jihadist troops from Mali to be replaced by Russian mercenaries with links to the Kremlin.”
Last week, France and its European partners announced they would begin a military withdrawal from Mali after more than nine years fighting a jihadist insurgency.
The troops were first deployed to the former French colony in 2013 under the tenure of François Hollande.
France and Mali’s deteriorated relations were not new. However, tensions significantly increased due to the presence of Russian mercenary forces.
Speaking of the president’s failure to grasp the Kremlin’s intentions, the professor added: “Let’s remember, this is a president who was never elected at any level before winning the presidency, so he never built the base of political experience from which most presidents benefit once in office.”
Amid a storm of diplomatic efforts to avert war in Eastern Europe, with Washington heavily invested, Mr Macron at the beginning of the month said he believed he could deliver “a historic solution” to the Ukraine crisis.
That confidence, Prof Shields claimed, is typical of the 44-year-old head of La République En Marche!.
He said: “This is classic Macron: a belief in his own powers of seduction to overcome adverse odds.”
As the professor labels his determination in holding a key role in the Ukraine crisis a “naivety born of over-optimism about his own powers of persuasion”, it stands out that the French president’s efforts to stay involved and in touch with Mr Putin persist even after Moscow’s “full-scale” assault on Kiev.
The two leaders spoke by phone on Thursday, and according to the Kremlin, Mr Putin gave Mr Macron an “exhaustive” explanation of the reasons for Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
The initiative for the call, Moscow pointed out, came from the Élysée.
It is this feature that Prof Shields presents as slightly arrogant that partly got Mr Macron where he is today. He said: “That belief helped him pull off an unlikely presidential victory in 2017, but it has served him less well in office, exposing a hubristic streak that provoked the ‘gilets jaunes’ (yellow vests) uprising that rocked his administration three years ago and continues to haunt it still.”
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As April’s election approaches, Mr Macron’s government is of course keen to keep demonstrations from spiralling into large-scale events like the anti-government “Yellow Vest” protests of 2018.
Yet, the revolutionary nature of the French people on the one hand and the fatigue brought by two years of pandemic restrictions on the other have this month made for scenes — the Champs Elysées in Paris filled with the smoke of tear gas during “Freedom Convoy” protests — that brought back memories of an episode that shook Mr Macron’s presidency.
At this stage, with just six weeks to go, it is easy to fall into the trap of linking everything to France going to the polls.
However, the significance of the French leadership is undeniable, even more so with France being the current holder of the European presidency and a key European leader, former German chancellor Angela Merkel, being out of the political picture.
According to Prof Shields, whose work focuses largely on political parties, elections and the far right in France, “there is no doubt that the imminent presidential election is a factor in every decision Macron takes both at home and overseas”.
And often, he believes, for the French it isn’t as much about seeing him getting far but about seeing him going somewhere.
Using the row with Mr Putin as an example, he said: “Macron’s interventions in the Ukraine crisis were a diplomatic failure but they served a political purpose for a president positioning himself to seek re-election.
“Macron has suffered a public humiliation at the hands of Putin, but we should not underestimate the effect on French popular opinion of having a president who is ‘out there’ doing it on the world stage.
“Ever since General de Gaulle, a big presence on the international stage is part of the job description of French presidents; and Macron will calculate that it’s better to be out there getting it wrong at times than not to be out there at all.”
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