Macron’s persistent dedication to poor mediation – POLITICO


James Snell is a writer and researcher. He has written for Spectator World, Foreign Policy and other media.

On May 30, 32-year-old French journalist Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff was killed by Russian artillery shrapnel. He was covering a humanitarian evacuation in eastern Ukraine and was killed during an apparent humanitarian ceasefire.

Leclerc-Imhoff’s death was unlucky. If the projectile that hit him hadn’t passed at the exact angle it passed through the hardened window, it wouldn’t have hit him in the neck. His death was a freak accident, the result of pure chance – and Russia’s willingness to violate ceasefires.

However, a few days later, French President Emmanuel Macron still stressed that “we must not humiliate Russia, so that the day the fighting stops, we can build an exit ramp by diplomatic means”.

“I am convinced that it is France’s role to be a mediating power,” he said.

During his tenure as president, Macron has attended and spoken at many funerals as head of state, delivering speeches that project the grandeur of his vision for France and its citizens. During the 2017 service for rock star Johnny Hallyday, Macron called the musician “part of France”. “Johnny was yours. Johnny was his audience. Johnny was his country,” he said. At the 2020 memorial for Samuel Paty, a teacher murdered for what his killers called blasphemy, Macron called him “the face of the republic”.

But when the death of Leclerc-Imhoff was announced, Macron rather coldly caught on Twitter, calling him simply a “journalist”, and not even typically nobly French. Macron wrote that Leclerc-Imhoff was “in Ukraine to show the reality of war”.

“Aboard a humanitarian bus, alongside civilians forced to flee to escape Russian bombs, he was fatally shot,” summed up the president dispassionately. And to those who cover wars like this, he said: “I would like to reiterate France’s unconditional support.

Macron tried to mediate in Ukraine before the war started. He is unlikely to speak at Leclerc-Imhoff’s funeral. But other phone calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which Macron has made a specialty of, are no doubt on his mind.

At the beginning of February, during his first attempt at mediation, the French president claimed that Putin had given him personal assurances that, in the case of Ukraine, Russia would soon “defuse”. There would be no war under Macron’s watch. But Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, denied the promise was ever made on the same day.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine less than 20 days later, however, did not diminish Macron’s desire for mediation – nor did it shake his belief that any promises he might induce Putin to do could be held.

At the end of May, Macron spoke to Putin again, this time alongside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, as the pair tried to broker a ceasefire at the beleaguered Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol and lift the blockade. Russian Black Sea ports.

Portrait of French journalist Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff, killed in Ukraine | Bertrand Guay/AFP via Getty Images

They failed to achieve any of these goals. The defenders of Azovstal were ordered to surrender by the Ukrainian army a few days later, and the Black Sea blockade remains in effect. “Any solution to the war must be negotiated between Moscow and Kyiv, respecting Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Macron said. turned out later.

Ukrainian officials see it as an escape. They believe that the “territorial integrity of Ukraine” that Macron speaks of only means what the French president decides it is – after appropriate concessions have been made to the Russian invaders.

Meanwhile, analysts began to perceive a certain tone in French diplomacy. French diplomats were unwilling to discuss “splits in the Western alliance”, but they were begins to involve a “difference in appreciation”. A difference between the staunchest opponents of Russian imperialism – namely the Baltic states, Poland, the United Kingdom and America – and those, like France and Germany, who are ready to accept reality that, in their eyes, Russia cannot be defeated and must therefore be dealt with.

But for Ukrainians, “dealing with Russia” means nothing less than appeasement – something the country’s leaders find baffling. They know that Macron understands the risks they run, as well as their certainty that the territory to the east, which remains under Russian control, will suffer the fate of Bucha.

Interestingly, when Macron was re-elected in April, the first time a French president had done so in 20 years, many observers thought that, freed from the burden of standing before the electorate, he could finally act as his own man. And apparently Macron proved it right off the bat, accelerating the rate at which France sent and deployed its CAESAR self-propelled howitzers into eastern Ukraine – vital weapons for attrition warfare and warfare duels. artillery taking place there.

According to them, Macron would no longer feel hostage to the idea of ​​a France as a Western democracy apart and apart from others – entrenched in the image of former President Charles de Gaulle, ordering the foreign troops leaving France in 1966 and belittling NATO.

This turned out to be incorrect.

Not only is Macron clearly part of this French tradition, he is a representative of it – as his repeated framing of France as a mediating nation indicates.

In his memoir, “Revolution,” and his seminal interviews with Der Spiegel early in his presidency, Macron spoke of the need for an ambitious, even shameless, role for France on the world stage.

In this sense, in 2017 he offered to mediate between the Kurdish regional government and the Iraqi state after violence broke out between the two. He failed to make an impact there.

In Libya, he presented himself as a mediator between Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army and the internationally recognized Government of National Accord, while helping Haftar alongside the United Arab Emirates and Russia – that is. say until Haftar’s offensive was halted outside Tripoli in 2020, and Macron’s initiative, again, crumbled.

After the Beirut explosion in 2020, Macron also visited Lebanon and proposed to the French authority to mediate between the Balkanized factions and build a new democracy atop the ruins. But after that political system proved too intractable and – in the words of Lebanese sources – Macron was “played” by Hezbollah, he lost interest.

These diplomatic maneuvers all failed. Neither France nor Macron himself has ever proven to be the mediator he conceives them. And on Russian state television, some of the hosts have now popularized a verb – macronit, or “to Macron” – which means calling someone over and over for no real reason.

But still, some other NATO statesmen see little use in Macron’s continued efforts to reach Putin on the phone. British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, for example, said he had “no problem” with Macron’s appeals to Putin. “Someone has to tell Putin he’s lost one day. Someone is going to have to call him and say leave because you’re making a fool of yourself. Maybe it’s the Chinese,” Wallace said.

“Maybe it’s President Macron,” he added.


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