Can Macron, Scholz and Johnson stop Putin from invading Ukraine?

Macron, Johnson and Scholz are trying to prove themselves on the world stage and send specific signals to their domestic constituents. But they also share the same overarching goal: to end an impending ground war involving Russia on the European continent.

We don’t know if they will succeed. Many European governments had made the deliberate choice to keep their embassy staff in Ukraine while other countries evacuated some of theirs over the past few days and weeks. But as US officials warned on Friday that Putin could invade Ukraine within a week, one country after another has told its nationals to leave immediately.

When Russia last invaded Ukraine in 2014, it was German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with her fluent Russian and more than a decade of experience dealing with Vladimir Putin, who naturally took the lead. initiative to lead a European response with sanctions. And it was Merkel and French President Francois Hollande who finally brokered a peace deal with the Minsk agreement. But now, as Europe faces its first security crisis since Merkel’s departure in December, the absence of her influence is being felt.

Olaf Scholz tries to find his place

Although Scholz has only been in office for a few months, being chancellor of the European Union’s most populous nation and largest economy automatically wields influence. His approach often reflected Merkel’s cautious style, and as finance minister and vice-chancellor he earned a reputation as a steady hand during crises.

But the standoff over Ukraine has been a high-stakes test for the new leader.

His coalition government is struggling to agree on a common approach – on the tone to adopt with Moscow, on potential sanctions, on whether to use the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany as leverage . In a leaked cable, Germany’s ambassador to Washington, Emily Haber, warned Berlin that she was increasingly seen in the United States as an “unreliable partner”. Der Spiegel reported.

Scholz’s wave of diplomacy is undoubtedly aimed, in part, at countering this impression. At a White House press conference on Monday, he said his country was “absolutely united” with the United States and other NATO allies and asserted that “we will take no different action.” Still, he avoided making direct statements about Nord Stream 2. It was Biden who delivered the forceful message: “If Russia invades, it means tanks or troops cross the Ukrainian border again, it doesn’t. there will be no more Nord Stream 2. We are going to put an end to it. »

Some in Merkel’s camp drew a contrast between Scholz’s performance and the former chancellor’s studied skill. It would be nice “if Olaf Scholz consulted Angela Merkel,” said Markus Söder, the leader of the small sister party to Scholz and Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

Germany’s new chancellor just needs time to find his feet, said Wolfgang Ischinger, Germany’s former ambassador to the United States and chairman of the Munich Security Conference.

“I’m sure Olaf Scholz regrets more than anyone that he had to start his mission at a time of extreme international attention,” Ischinger said.

He noted that when Macron was elected to the French presidency in 2017, he was the “newcomer”, while Merkel had already served for about a decade.

“She knew everyone in the world and she was known to everyone in the world,” he said. “And Emmanuel Macron had to make his first phone calls. This creates an unequal relationship for some time.

The Ukraine crisis is likely to explode or be resolved before Scholz is able to make those connections.

Emmanuel Macron as Putin’s interlocutor

Long eclipsed on the international scene by Merkel, Macron has claimed a central role in the negotiations between Ukraine and Russia. He pushed for a diplomatic resolution through what are known as “Normandy format” talks – involving France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia. And in addition to his 5.5-hour meeting with Putin in Moscow, he has spoken with the Russian leader several times by phone in recent days, including more than an hour on Saturday.

“It’s a moment of war and peace, a moment of history happening in Europe – and he cherishes those moments, when he thinks it’s all on the line, and he wants to get involved,” said Joseph de Weck, the author of a book on Macron.

De Weck added: “I think he would act exactly the same way” if there were no French presidential election in two months.

During his meeting with Putin on Monday, Macron adopted a conciliatory tone that surprised some observers. He called Russia a “friend” and said: “There is no security for Europeans if there is no security for Russia.”

Some observers have raised questions about whether Macron could go rogue. And it is true that he wants Europe to claim greater independence from the United States on security issues. But he regularly consults with President Biden and his European allies. On both sides of the Atlantic, there appears to be a concerted effort to avoid the kind of surprise and anger that followed the Biden administration’s decision to share sensitive nuclear-powered submarine technology with Australia. , which effectively canceled an earlier agreement between Australia and France.

Macron also followed his meeting in Moscow by issuing a joint statement with Scholz and Polish President Andrzej Duda, warning that “any further military aggression by Russia against Ukraine will have massive consequences and significant costs.”

On Saturday, he told Putin “sincere dialogue was not compatible with an escalation”, according to the French government‘s summary of the appeal.

“Macron dreams of repeating the feat of Nicolas Sarkozy,” said Marc Endeweld, the author of several books on French foreign policy and Macron. When Sarkozy was president in 2008, he managed a diplomatic resolution of the crisis between Georgia and Russia. Endeweld noted that then, as now, France held the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union.

French government officials have made it clear that Macron’s efforts are helping. During a briefing with reporters, a senior French official recalled Putin, saying Macron was “the only one with whom he could have such in-depth discussions”.

But as Emre Peker of the Eurasia Group noted in a risk assessment note: “The Kremlin also made it clear after the Macron-Putin meeting that the United States is Russia’s main dialogue partner on security. European”.

Boris Johnson sets out to prove himself and ‘Global Britain’

Britain’s departure from the European Union has made it harder for the country to claim the title of leader of Europe. But that didn’t stop Johnson from bragging that he and his government were “bringing the West together” on Ukraine.

Britain is undoubtedly playing an outsized role in military support for Ukraine. It provided 2,000 anti-tank weapons, trained 22,000 Ukrainian soldiers and committed $110 million to bolster the Ukrainian Navy.

Johnson stressed that British soldiers would not fight in Ukraine. But he sends 350 Royal Marines to Poland. And when meeting NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg this week, the Prime Minister said he had offered to double the number of British troops in Estonia, deploy more Royal Air Force planes in southern Europe and to send a destroyer and an offshore patrol vessel to the eastern Mediterranean.

Johnson said it was “probably the most dangerous moment” in what he described as “the biggest security crisis Europe has faced in decades”.

Washington Post opinion columnist James Hohmann tells reporter Libby Casey how Ukraine might try to defend itself against a Russian invasion. (The Washington Post)

For the Johnson government, the Ukraine crisis offers an opportunity to prove that post-Brexit Britain is still a force to be reckoned with on the world stage.

The country’s withdrawal from the EU has limited its possibilities of being a transatlantic bridge. But Britain remains one of the dominant military powers in NATO and Europe, alongside the United States and France, and is a member of the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance.

Britain is not dependent on Russian natural gas as some European countries are. It draws about half of its gas from domestic deposits in the North Sea and imports about a third from Norway.

This “leaves Britain a margin of freedom, of maneuverability”, said Jonathan Eyal, associate director at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

But critics say the British government’s tough rhetoric is undermined by the fact that London has long been a playground for Russian oligarchs, who pour billions into the property market.

Johnson’s ability to focus on the Ukraine crisis is also limited by his location at home in Britain. On Friday, he received a questionnaire from Scotland Yard, reporting that he was personally under investigation for attending parties which may have breached pandemic lockdown rules.

Adam reported from London and Morris from Berlin.

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