Zhang Xue’r

On March 4, Russian President Putin and his French counterpart Macron once again held talks to discuss the ongoing war in Ukraine and the general concerns over the looming nuclear crisis in Europe.

This is one of a series of summit talks between the two leaders since January 29 when they discussed the issues on how to establish long-term and legally binding security guarantees between Russia and the West.

Now with the war engulfing the whole country and with the potential spillover in the region, it is clear the result that the U.S. and NATO allies did not take into account seriously such fundamental concerns of Russia in light of NATO’s unilateral expansion and refraining from deploying offensive weapons near Russian borders.

Moreover, the West has intently ignored one of the key tenets of the “indivisibility of security” and also that no state should strengthen its own security at the expense of the security of others, as Russia has insisted.

Despite this, the leaders of Russia and France agreed to continue the bilateral dialogue with a view to implementing the ceasefire in Ukraine. I

n reality, Putin and Macron have kept their contacts to discuss the Ukrainian war and security guarantees between Russia and the West and it is said that Macron and Putin have held three talks since the war started ten days ago followed by comprehensive sanctions against Russia from the Western bloc.

To understand Macron’s policy and his potential role as a key “broker” in the Ukraine-Russian war, it is imperative to be aware of the strategic culture and statecraft of France generally.

As Henry Kissinger once argued, France has a centuries-long tradition of conducting diplomacy that aims to make the possible scenario into the pursued reality. Historically, ever since Richelieu in the 17th century, France’s initiatives had clearly grown out of a calculation of risks and rewards.

This legacy was inherited by Charles de Gaulle remarkably since he was more concerned with accumulating options for the contingency of disagreement while he opined that sound relations among nations depended on calculations of interests, not on formal procedures for settling crises.

As one of the strongest driving forces of the strategic sovereignty of Europe, France has promoted the unity of Europe which led to the rapprochement towards Germany under Chancellor Adenauer.

Under these circumstances, President Macron who holds faith in “Europe de Patries” has kept the bilateral relations with his Russian counterpart while he has followed the collective security of the transatlantic community in imposing severe sanctions against Russia.

The arguments come out the rationales and strategic calculations of France which has happened to act the presidency over the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2022.

There is no question, as the President of France, Macron is more concerned with how to promote France’s status and leverage in the world stage, enhance the real strategic autonomy of Europe which is based on European defense capability, and the long-term trade and economic relations with Russia.

As one of the core member states of NATO, France is aware of the dominating role of the United States in all terms. But from the very beginning, France opined that America’s judgment was less European than that of France and Germany along with many others.

Due to this, France and some EU members are less enthusiastic to take unilateral crusade against Russia or other major power beyond.

Strategically, France has pushed for a Europe organized along the lines of Bismarck’s vision—that is, the unity of Europe is based upon individual states, but France and Germany would be played the co-dominant role of the function of Europe.

To that end, France has made all diplomatic efforts to enlarge the strategic sovereignty of Europe. It is apparent that Macron understands France alone is not strong enough to act as a world power like the United States, China, Russia, and even India. Yet, united Europe under the co-chair of France and Germany will make difference in history.

Now with the war raging steadily in Ukraine, Macron has adopted diplomacy which aims to prevent Russia from taking Ukraine by force but meanwhile to avoid escalating the crisis into a nuclear conflict.

As the disciple of classic diplomacy, France has never given up the role of diplomacy as it believes that no country can be secure and progressive in isolation. In terms of relations with Russia, France has more positive memory than bitter experiences than many other countries including Germany.

Moreover, France and Russia have extensive trade and economic relations which cover many significant areas including space. For instance, before the pre-war talks with Putin, Macron had agreed that diplomacy should remain open to all sides as an opportunity to find a peaceful path for Europe, where new mechanisms are needed to ensure security, and existing pacts should be preserved at the same time.

In addition, as all sides are working towards a de-escalation, diplomacy is useful for both Russia and for all the rest of Europe. There is no alternative to a political solution to the Ukrainian crisis.

Considering the scenario in Ukraine and even beyond, Macron has been more sincere than his NATO or EU colleagues to speak of the necessity of diplomacy. His efforts are sure to echo the current trend that there is still a diplomatic off-ramp to resolve the crisis, referring to diplomacy remains a constructive means, even though no immediate fruits are present.

*The writer is a research associate at SIPA, Jilin University, China

*The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the position of the institution. 


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