by Anne-Elisabeth Moutet
Wednesday, 23
February 2022
Dispatch
14:15

Give Emmanuel Macron a break

His attempts to win over Putin have been ridiculed — but at least he tried
by Anne-Elisabeth Moutet
Credit: Getty

Paris, France

Emmanuel Macron and his negotiating team are livid over the Ukraine quagmire, and they don’t care who knows it. For the past two weeks, the French President has tried every ounce of charm, diplomacy, conviction, guile, and brinksmanship. He has been sleeping four-hour nights and offering concessions beyond anything he’d suggested so far, all in the name of bringing Europe back from the edge. Unfortunately, the bully at the other end never intended to play ball.

Two weeks ago, Macron decided he alone was capable of convincing the Russian president not to start a war on Ukraine. Armed with the self-belief that has never failed him, Macron was sure that Putin could be persuaded to see the rational side of things. For most of the president’s first term, that was the assumption under which Macron operated.

From the start, Macron saw his presidency as an exercise in sabre tooth tiger taming. Just as he’d wowed Donald Trump with a mammoth military parade on the Champs Élysées for Bastille Day, Macron first invited Putin to a grandiose summit at Versailles, weeks after his 2017 election. The following year, he visited him in St Petersburg, talking up a storm on Tolstoy and Dostoevsky under the cold stares of Putin’s MGIMO-educated advisers. Finally, Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron opened up the Fort de Brégançon for Putin, the presidential residence on the Med where Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande used to sunbathe with their partner du jour.

But what was that charm offensive all for? To find himself at the end of a twenty-foot-long Louis de Oligarch marble table, being offered nary a concession after a five-hour discussion? At the traditional post-talk presser, the French president and his advisers tried to spin the result as a commitment to de-escalation even after Putin quoted a barracks song that compared Ukraine to a girl that just had “to take it”. Macron was still on the plane back, briefing the likes of The Economist and Le Monde, when the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, suggested nothing had in fact changed. The timing was designed to make Macron’s hasty boasts sound like a vanity project, achieving nothing but dividing the West. It worked.

Macron was spared no blushes at home. He was ridiculed in Paris by all rival candidates, with Éric Zemmour mocking the President as “Washington’s little messenger boy” and Valérie Pécresse saying that he was “played for a fool”. Meanwhile, the grand political pundit and academic Jacques Julliard dismissed Macron as “an adolescent who’s still learning on the job after five years.” That must have stung. 

But as Russia massed more and more troops on Ukraine’s Eastern border, and word in Washington came of arrests and kill lists in a conquered Ukraine, Macron admirably resolved to yet again try jaw-jaw in the face of war-war last weekend. But this time, it would be a joint effort. From the plan’s inception, Olaf Scholz, Joe Biden and Anthony Blinken, and Boris Johnson were constantly kept in the loop. As Benjamin Haddad, the Senior Director for Europe at the Atlantic Council think tank, told me: “Macron had learned his lesson. He put all quarrels aside and talked with Johnson regularly. That the effort failed and the tanks crossed the border must be chalked up to Putin, not Macron.”

It would be easy to dismiss all these moves as Macron trying to burnish his pre-election image. But we should also give him some credit for what he is trying to accomplish. In spite of all the criticism and embarrassment he has suffered over the past two weeks, he is not giving up — and the future of Europe could depend on it.

Join the discussion


To join the discussion, get the free daily email and read more articles like this, sign up.

It's simple, quick and free.

Sign me up
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
16 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Graham Stull
Graham Stull
5 months ago

I despise Macron, and I fully believe his desire to intervene was born of egoism and self-interest.
But I still subscribe to your sentiments, because when it comes to averting a horrific war, I’ll take whatever peace initiative I can get, from whomever gives it.

James Joyce
James Joyce
5 months ago

“Two weeks ago, Macron decided he alone was capable of convincing the Russian president not to start a war on Ukraine.”
A bit hubristic, non?
No tears for Macron, who made himself look like the fool he is. No respect either! Desolee.

Stephen Walshe
Stephen Walshe
5 months ago

It was a risible electoral stunt, for which Macron deserves no credit, and which will hopefully damage his re-election ambitions. France, like the UK, is of no significance to Russia, in contrast to Germany, China and the US. If their leaders were not willing to go to Moscow, Macron just made himself look like the mountebank he is by rushing in. The standing of the Presidential office should not be squandered uselessly. .

ralph bell
ralph bell
5 months ago

Your right, no leader in the West appears to have a clue what to do or what they should have already been doing way before this.
Good on Macron for his Diplomacy efforts, however futile they may now look.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
5 months ago

“The timing was designed to make Macron’s hasty boasts sound like a vanity project, achieving nothing but dividing the West”.
That’s because they were. No sympathy for Macron here. It was pretty obvious to me from the outset that this was ego-fuelled freelancing which would do nothing other than highlight the division of the West at the worst possible time. Putin simply had to sit back and let Macron’s Siberia-sized ego work for him.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
5 months ago

Plenty of Putin admirers on this site in the past few weeks. Agreeably for them their sons won’t end up in a burnt out APC in some anonymous field. Comforting.

Hersch Schneider
Hersch Schneider
5 months ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

So I’m to assume you’re on the side pushing for war? The irony

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
5 months ago

Of course not! Is that a deliberate misread? The opposite. I’m not that old git of an armchair warrior like plenty on here purging their hatred of Western democracy with all its faults ( like debate and dissent?) by wanting us to ‘be strong’ in some way as they also admire by inference the brutal Putin. As I said, as long as they don’t end up actually suffering. Someone else can. They might get keyboarditis at the most.

Hersch Schneider
Hersch Schneider
5 months ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

I stand corrected!
*said the man in the orthopaedic shoes

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
5 months ago

Is it just me or does Macron have a stupid face?

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
5 months ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Great argument. Putin looks like…oh come on.

Martin Layfield
Martin Layfield
5 months ago

We’re told Putin is mad and evil. The fact that he’s totally humiliated Macron makes me think Putin can’t be all that bad.
Forcing him to take a covid test and then subjecting him to the long table treatment when he refused……beautiful, poetic justice.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
5 months ago

You really need to get some perspective. Disliking Macron ( are you a French voter?) is an absurdity in this situation. If you didn’t vote for him I don’t get your point. Under a Putin you’d be actually persecuted for disagreeing. Did anything about the brutality of the last Belarusian ‘election’ not register?

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
5 months ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

You can be persecuted in the West for holding the wrong opinions; is Russia that much worse?

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
5 months ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Olga Romanovna: founder of NGO Russia Behind Bars: It’s a mistake to assume that Navalny will serve only two years and eight months. He will be released much later than that, if at all. It depends entirely on the will of just one person: Vladimir Putin. There are all kinds of ways of keeping him in prison for as long as is considered necessary. Officially, of course the reasons will be ‘strictly legal’. Next year or the year after, Navalny’s prison term may be increased to ten years.

Michael Kellett
Michael Kellett
5 months ago

Perhaps if he’d kept Biden, Johnson et al in the loop from the outset, instead of when it was too late, he may have achieved a different result. I doubt it but I would have had more respect for him.