Three cheers for Emmanuel Macron : News : The Independent Institute
No one praises Russian President Vladimir Putin for his warmth, his compassion or his love of democracy. He used cyberattacks to meddle in US elections and interfere with Ukraine’s internal affairs. It invaded Georgia in 2008 after a Georgian provocation and Crimea in 2014. It continued to aid separatists in a civil war after the Ukrainian government failed to grant promised autonomy to Russian-speaking areas in the east of Ukraine. Now he has assembled 130,000 troops ready to invade most of the remaining Ukraine.
Thus, many criticized Emmanuel Macron, the French President, for traveling to Moscow to negotiate with the Russian autocrat in an effort to prevent any kind of Russian invasion or incursion into Ukraine. He was pilloried for letting Putin symbolically keep him at arm’s length during their meeting at perhaps the longest table ever and, before the meeting, saying that the ‘Finlandization’ of Ukraine was a model that was on the table. Additionally, some have criticized Macron for acting independently when Western unity is needed, in a bid to portray himself as the leader of Europe ahead of his impending re-election push in France.
Yet Macron is the good cop in the West’s good cop-bad cop response to Putin’s menacing maneuvers. President Joe Biden, as head of the NATO alliance, is the bad cop and has so far played his limited game as best he could, given the clumsiness of his American predecessors to extend the alliance to the borders of Russia. Biden is right not to negotiate, with a symbolic gun to his head, a public pledge to Russia never to bring Ukraine into NATO and to withdraw forces and weapons from Eastern Europe.
However, in exchange for Russian de-escalation and the withdrawal of troops from Ukraine’s borders, Biden should negotiate with Putin on broader European security issues, not just on US arms control proposals that do not meet legitimate needs more wide of Russian security. Of course, Macron said the quiet part out loud – that the “Finlandization” of Ukraine is a possible solution. In fact, this is the best solution. During the Cold War, Finland was able to maintain its thriving democracy, even though it shared a border with the Soviet superpower, by remaining neutral and accepting advice from the USSR on its foreign policy.
Similarly, the Biden administration must privately tell Ukraine – which has always been strategically, economically and culturally important to neighboring Russia – that while NATO would publicly keep the door open to NATO membership , this result would never happen in practice and that “Finlandization” was the best option for weak states in the spheres of influence of the great powers. Thus, the West could offer economic relations if Ukraine even decided to publicly withdraw its interest in joining the alliance.
Macron is also right to say that by failing to address Russian security concerns, the West is pushing Russia into the arms of China. Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping recently said at the Beijing Olympics that the United States must “let go of its ideologized Cold War approaches” and that the two countries had “no limits” to their friendship. Bruno Le Maire, French Minister of Economy and a close ally of Macron, insisted: “Do we want a Russia totally aligned with China or a Russia somewhere between China and Europe? Macron even seems willing to integrate Russia into some sort of new European security system. Since the Second World War, France has always wanted to be allied with the United States but have a certain independence. It seems difficult for France to have butter and butter money unless the United States and the rest of the NATO countries are willing to remove the collective defense requirement from Article 5 of the NATO treaty and to admit both Russia and Ukraine into what would become a political organization to discuss European issues and problems. Had this better course been followed after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the current crisis over Ukraine probably would not have occurred.
Even if Macron’s long-term idea of an overhaul of European security cannot be delivered quickly, he is right to negotiate with Moscow and Kyiv and perhaps impress upon Ukrainians that being a democracy friendly to Russia under Finlandization is better than enduring Soviet-style authoritarian rule after a full-scale Russian invasion.