Paris Olaf Scholz had just warned of a “bidding competition” for Western arms deliveries to Ukraine. Then he flew to Paris and found himself in the middle of the arms race he really wanted to avoid.
Late on Wednesday evening, the Chancellor met French President Emmanuel Macron and the Ukrainian head of state Volodymyr Zelensky, who had traveled directly from London, to the Élysée Palace. There Selenski had called for a “coalition of combat aircraft”, and the British government was suddenly more open to this than before.
Macron had not ruled out the delivery of fighter jets last week. In the Élysée Palace, he assured Ukraine of “support until victory” alongside Scholz. “Ukraine can count on France and Europe to win this war,” said the French president. “Russia cannot and must not be victorious.”
Selenski emphasized in Paris: “We need weapons.” In view of the Russian plans for a spring offensive, Ukraine has only “little time”. It is about ending the war against his country and “returning to peace in Europe”.
Scholz also renewed his pledge of support to Ukraine in Paris before retiring with Macron and Zelenski for a very late dinner and deliberations on further support for the Ukrainian armed forces. “Ukraine is part of the European family,” said the Chancellor.
Scholz brakes with other weapons
But his choice of words is more cautious than what Selenski heard from Macron and most recently from British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. For Sunak, the delivery of fighter jets to Ukraine is “not off the table” recently.
>> Read also: Prime Minister Sunak sees fighter jet deliveries ‘not off the table’
In a government statement in the Bundestag on Wednesday, before the meeting in the Élysée Palace, Scholz said: “What is damaging to our unity, on the other hand, is a public outbidding competition along the lines of: battle tanks, submarines, aircraft – who is asking for more?” What a pity , are pithy domestic political statements and criticism of partners and allies on the open stage.
Germany would not participate, he had emphasized. “Because any dissonance, any speculation about possible differences in interests is only of use to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his propaganda.”
But: can Germany escape this debate? At the beginning of January, French President Macron rushed ahead and announced the delivery of AMX-10 RC armored reconnaissance vehicles to Ukraine. One day after Macron, Scholz agreed to hand over Marder armored personnel carriers to Kyiv. In the dynamics triggered by this, the Chancellor then cleared the way for Leopard main battle tanks, and the USA, not least at Berlin’s urging, agreed to the heavy M1 Abrams tank.
After tanks, it’s about fighter jets
After main battle tanks, fighter jets are the next ordnance the Ukrainian government is calling for in defense against Russia. Not only the F-16 jets of American design are under discussion, but also Mirage fighter planes, which are currently being gradually replaced by the French Air Force with the newer Rafale. “In principle, nothing is forbidden,” Macron replied when asked about fighter jet deliveries at the end of January during a visit to the Netherlands.
In reality, despite the big words, Paris has so far been rather reluctant to deliver arms. The Leclerc, the French equivalent of the Leopard 2, will probably not be used on the battlefields in Ukraine. Although France is still officially examining the issue, it has indicated that the leopard is the better option.
According to a statement by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, Paris has promised Ukraine armaments for 600 million euros by the end of November 2022. France was far behind the United States, which reportedly provided €22.9 billion in military aid. Great Britain (4.1 billion euros), Germany (2.3 billion euros) and Poland (1.8 billion euros) also delivered significantly more to Kyiv.
But a lot has happened in the past two months: In addition to the reconnaissance tanks, Macron also promised to supply additional Caesar howitzers. In addition, the French-Italian SAMP/T air defense system is to be deployed, which can intercept medium- and long-range missiles. The state-of-the-art system, also known as “Mamba” by the French armed forces, should significantly strengthen Ukraine’s air defenses with its surface-to-air missiles.
Developments so far point to a future division of labor: France is concentrating on air combat in support of Ukraine, while Germany seems to be more challenged with main battle tanks.
Selenski also sees it that way. After arriving in Paris, he said to Macron and Scholz: “Emmanuel, the sooner our pilots get modern aircraft, and Olaf, the stronger our armored coalition becomes, the sooner this aggression by Russia will end.”
Macron wished Scholz for Selenski’s visit to Paris
It is noteworthy that Zelenski has chosen Paris as another destination for his European tour alongside London – which is certainly not only due to its geographical proximity to Brussels, where the Ukrainian President is due to attend a meeting of EU heads of state and government on Thursday. When Selenski entered the courtyard of the Élysée Palace on Wednesday evening, Macron picked him up and, after a warm greeting, led him up the stairs to the entrance.
>> Read here: The Leopard 2 and the M1 Abrams can do that
Then, like a surprise guest, the Federal Chancellor stepped out through the entrance portal, took his place between the Presidents of France and Ukraine and finally stood on the left-hand side. Macron’s environment said that the French President wanted Scholz to be present.
In the initial phase of the Ukraine crisis, Macron, like Scholz, had high hopes for a dialogue with Putin to defuse the crisis. And before the Russian attack, the situation in Berlin and Paris was more such that it was assumed that Putin would not dare to ignite Ukraine again. In the USA, in Great Britain and in Eastern Europe things were already seen differently at that time.
On Thursday night, Macron Selenski also received the Legion of Honour, the highest honor in France. The honor goes to “Ukraine and its people”, but also to the “courage and commitment” of the Ukrainian President.
In an interview with the French newspaper “Le Figaro” published late Wednesday evening, Zelensky said of Macron: “I think he has changed.” The French President paved the way for the delivery of western tanks.
Selenski criticizes Germany’s slow reaction at the beginning of the crisis
In the interview, the Ukrainian President is also asked about support from Germany. “Our relationship with Germany has gone through difficult phases,” he said. “I don’t want to deny that it was difficult at the beginning.” For example, “some political leaders” were initially “slow” in their response to the crisis.
That has changed though. Nevertheless: There are differences, not in terms of common values, but “the way we are going about this war”.
More: Kyiv hopes France will take the lead in fighter jet deliveries