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European leaders hit back at Macron remark

EU countries rule out sending ground troops to Ukraine; Russia rebukes move

By CHEN WEIHUA in Brussels | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-02-29 07:12
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FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron attends a press conference at the end of the conference in support of Ukraine, with European leaders and government representatives, at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, February 26, 2024. [Photo/Agencies]

France's transatlantic allies on Tuesday poured cold water on remarks by French President Emmanuel Macron who expressed on Monday that a future deployment of Western troops in Ukraine should not be "ruled out".

While Macron admitted after European leaders gathered in Paris for a meeting focusing on the Russia-Ukraine conflict that there was no consensus on the issue, he said "nothing should be ruled out. We will do whatever it takes to ensure that Russia cannot win".

Moscow has responded strongly to Macron's remarks. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "It is absolutely not in the interests of these countries, they should be aware of this.

"In that case, we would need to talk not about the probability, but about the inevitability (of direct conflict)," he said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz rejected Macron's remarks, saying on Tuesday on X that "we agreed that everyone must do more for Ukraine in Paris yesterday. Ukraine needs weapons, ammunition and air defense. We are working on it. It is clear: there will be no ground troops from European countries or NATO".

Scholz pushed back on Monday against domestic pressure, including in his governing coalition, to send Taurus long-range cruise missiles to Kyiv, citing the risk of Germany becoming directly involved in the conflict.

European Union and NATO members have made it clear since the beginning of the conflict that there will be no boots on the ground from their countries in order to avoid a direct and wider war with Russia.

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani reiterated the message that support for Ukraine did not include sending troops. "When we talk about sending troops, we must be very cautious because we must not make people think we are at war with Russia," he said, adding that "we are not at war with Russia".

The White House also declared on Tuesday that it would not send troops to Ukraine.

Disunity among nations

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told the media that "there are no plans for NATO combat troops on the ground in Ukraine".

Acting Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, regarded as the lead candidate to be the next NATO secretary-general, said the issue of sending troops was not the focus of Monday's talks.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said after the meeting on Monday that there was disunity on the issue among European leaders.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson expressed that "it's not on the cards at all for the moment".

After a meeting in Prague on Tuesday, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his Czech counterpart Petr Fiala both rejected the notion that there were plans to involve their troops directly in the conflict.

European Commission spokesman Peter Stano, in reply to a question from China Daily, said this is part of a discussion of member states. "This has not been discussed at the EU level," he said.

French opposition parties have also lashed out at Macron's remarks. Marine Le Pen, Macron's major political opponent and the far-right leader in the French parliament, accused the French president of "taking a further step toward belligerence, posing an existential risk to 70 million French people".

Elysee has tried to defuse the tension, with Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne saying on Tuesday that the French president had in mind sending troops for specific tasks such as helping with mine clearance, production of weapons on site and cyberdefense.

" (It) could require a (military) on Ukrainian territory, without crossing the threshold of fighting," he told French lawmakers.

"It's not sending troops to wage war against Russia."

Agencies contributed to the story.

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