Macron says EU is not at war with Russia, warns against ‘humiliating’ Putin

File photo. French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin give a press conference after a summit on Ukraine at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, France, 9 December 2019. [Pool/EPA/EFE]

Europe must learn from its past mistakes and make sure no side is humiliated when Russia and Ukraine negotiate for peace, France’s president said on Europe Day (9 May) in Strasbourg.

Macron warned that while Europe was now helping Ukraine, there would come a point when Moscow and Kyiv would seek peace. And at that point, neither side should be humiliated or excluded as happened to Germany in 1918, he added.

Historians concur that the harsh conditions imposed on Germany by the Armistice of 11 November 1918 laid the ground for Hitler’s rise, which eventually led to World War II.

“We will have a peace to build tomorrow, let us never forget that,” Macron said, adding: “We will have to do this with Ukraine and Russia around the table. The end of the discussion and the negotiation will be set by Ukraine and Russia. But it will not be done in denial, nor in exclusion of each other, nor even in humiliation.”

“We are not at war with Russia. We work as Europeans for the preservation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. For the return of peace to our continent. We will be there to rebuild Ukraine, as Europeans, always”, Macron said in a tweet.

“We must have this standard because we know that the coming weeks and months will be very difficult,” Macron added, saying that it is up to Ukraine alone to define the conditions for any negotiations with Russia.

Macron’s comments signal a European approach contrasting with the US. Over the Atlantic, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said he wanted to see Russia weakened and unable to recover, while US President Joe Biden has called Putin a war criminal.

The Brief – Is the EU at war with Putin?

Helping Ukraine against the aggressor is a duty for all Europeans but there is a fine line between assisting Kyiv and waging war by proxy against Vladimir Putin, who has a nuclear button.

 

The French President’s comments came at the same time as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s huge military parade in Moscow on Victory Day.

With the usual ballistic missiles and tanks rumbling across the cobblestones, the Moscow parade was easily the most closely watched since the 1945 defeat of the Nazis that it celebrates.

Russia’s war has killed thousands of civilians, sent millions of Ukrainians fleeing and reduced cities to rubble. Moscow has little to show for it beyond a strip of territory in the south and marginal gains in the east.

The Brief – What will Putin celebrate on 9 May?

For those who don’t know Russia well, we should start by saying that in that country, 9 May is elevated to a sort of religious extravaganza, like  Easter and Christmas wrapped into one.

Putin said nothing in his speech about plans for any escalation in Ukraine, despite Western warnings he might use his Red Square address to order a national mobilisation.

Western capitals had openly speculated for weeks that Putin was driving his forces to achieve enough progress by the symbolic date to declare victory – but with few gains so far, might instead announce a national call-up for war.

The Russian president did neither, but repeated his assertions that his forces were again fighting Nazis.

“You are fighting for the Motherland, for its future, so that no one forgets the lessons of World War Two. So that there is no place in the world for executioners, castigators and Nazis,” Putin said from the tribune outside the Kremlin walls.

In Ukraine, there was no let up in fighting, with missile strikes destroying buildings in the southern port of Odesa, where Council President Charles Michel, on a surprise visit in the port city, had to look for cover.

On surprise Odesa trip, Charles Michel takes cover during missile strike

European Council President Charles Michel, who made a surprise visit to Odesa on Monday (9 May), was forced to break off a meeting and take cover when missiles again struck the southern Ukrainian city, an EU official said.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in his own speech, promised Ukrainians would triumph.

“On the Day of Victory over Nazism, we are fighting for a new victory. The road to it is difficult, but we have no doubt that we will win,” said Zelenskyy, wearing plain army garb with his shirt sleeves rolled up.

Meanwhile in the US, President Joe Biden signed a Lend-Lease Act – modelled on World War II efforts to fight Nazi Germany – that cuts through bureaucratic hurdles to speed up weapons shipments to Ukraine.

The United States has sent some $4 billion in military aid to Ukraine already but “caving to aggression is even more costly,” Biden said as he signed the act, passed with unusual bipartisan support.

Zelenskyy hailed the measure as a “historic step,” writing on Twitter: “I am convinced that we will win together again. And we will defend democracy in Ukraine. And in Europe. Like 77 years ago.”

Religious status

The Soviet victory in World War Two has acquired almost religious status in Russia under Putin, who has invoked the memory of the “Great Patriotic War” throughout what he calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Western countries consider that a false analogy to justify unprovoked aggression.

“There can be no victory day, only dishonour and surely defeat in Ukraine,” said British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.

In Poland, the Russian ambassador was surrounded by protesters at a memorial ceremony and doused in red paint. Ambassador Sergei Andreyev, his face dripping and his shirt stained, said he was “proud of my country and my president”.

After an assault on Kyiv was beaten back in March by strong Ukrainian resistance, Russia poured more troops in for a huge offensive in the east last month.

Russian gains have been slow at best, and Western arms are flooding into Ukraine for an expected counter-attack.

Western military experts – many of whom initially predicted a quick Russian victory – now say Moscow could be running out of troops. A full declaration of war would let Putin activate reservists and send conscripts.

“Without concrete steps to build a new force, Russia can’t fight a long war, and the clock starts ticking on the failure of their army in Ukraine,” said Phillips O’Brien, a professor of strategic studies at Britain’s University of St Andrews.

The war still seems to enjoy strong public support in Russia, where independent journalism is effectively banned and state television says Russia is defending itself from NATO. Conscription would test that support.

Four people were killed and several homes were destroyed in Russian attacks in the town of Bogodukhov, northwest of Kharkiv, local media quoted Kharkiv officials as saying.

Ukraine’s defence ministry said Russian forces backed by tanks and artillery were conducting “storming operations” at Mariupol’s Azovstal plant, where hundreds of Ukrainian defenders have held out through months of siege. Civilians sheltering there were evacuated in recent days.

The Russians were trying to blow up a bridge used for evacuations, to trap the last defenders inside, said Mariupol mayoral aide Petro Andryuschenko.

Mariupol lies between the Crimean Peninsula, seized by Moscow in 2014, and parts of eastern Ukraine under the control of Russia-backed separatists. Capturing the city would allow Moscow to link the two areas as it pushes for more eastern gains.

“Mariupol remains the most difficult part of our region,” said Pavlo Kyrylenko, regional governor of Donetsk, which includes Mariupol.

Despite the recent evacuation from Azovstal, “civilians remain in the city itself,” he said. “All of them are in effect being held in handcuffs by Russia. We will fight on for each one of them.”

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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