Russia's attacks drive "new urgency" for France to aid Ukraine
PARIS — The explosion on the Crimean bridge and later Moscow’s bombardment of cities across Ukraine have dominated discussions in the French media and foreign ministry over the past several days, with President Emmanuel Macron declaring the Russian strikes signal a “profound change” in the nature of the war.
Why it matters: France is preparing to respond on multiple fronts, three senior French officials tell Axios. That includes looking with "a new sense of urgency" at providing much-needed air defense systems to “help Ukraine quickly,” one senior official says.
- With Russia brazenly targeting civilian areas, there will be discussions over the next few days about how to increase “Ukraine’s ability to resist on the civilian side," including helping to repair key infrastructure like bridges or electricity in addition to ongoing humanitarian and military support, one of the senior officials says.
- The officials declined to be named while discussing the still-developing response.
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appealed for an "air shield" while addressing an emergency virtual meeting of G7 leaders on Tuesday. The G7 released a joint statement pledging to hold Putin accountable for attacking civilians and to support Ukraine "for as long as it takes."
- Macron also called Zelensky as the attacks unfolded on Monday to condemn the strikes and promise increased military aid, which according to another senior official could be part of a broader European package. Three days earlier, Macron had announced a 100 million euro ($97 million) package to help Ukraine purchase weapons.
Between the lines: French officials are highly sensitive about claims that they’ve been slower than other NATO countries like the U.K. or Poland to provide weapons, arguing they get less credit for their contributions — self-propelled howitzers, for example — because they don’t publicly announce them.
- Still, Gérard Araud, a former senior French diplomat who served most recently as ambassador to the U.S., says “secret or not secret, the French really are behind other countries” in terms of military support, adding: “Basically, we would have to take weaponry from the armed forces and they are resisting.”
- France is also more hesitant than some NATO members to publicly revel in Russian setbacks, officials say, arguing that bold public statements won’t help Ukraine and will exacerbate the narrative that somehow NATO is the aggressor.
- “There is an ugly debate between the Europeans,” with the French and Germans emphasizing the war won’t end without diplomacy and countries including Poland and the Baltic states “out for the skin of Putin,” Araud says, noting the Polish prime minister told Macron “nobody negotiated with Hitler.”
- Still, Macron is speaking far less with Vladimir Putin than earlier in the war, and has said that, while negotiations will eventually be necessary, his priority is to help Ukraine succeed militarily. His remark in June that Russia must not be “humiliated” now feels like a relic of an earlier stage of the war.
The big picture: Araud travels frequently between France and the U.S., and has noted that while Ukraine dips in and out of the news agenda in the U.S., it’s consistently a top focus in France — naturally, perhaps, given the relative proximity of the fighting.
- Asked by Axios if they’d been working non-stop since the Russian attacks on Monday, a senior French diplomat remarked, “It has been non-stop since Feb. 24,” the date of the invasion.
- Polls suggest French public opinion is strongly behind Ukraine, even as energy prices are rising and far-right leader Marine Le Pen is arguing the “useless” sanctions should be scrapped.