France becoming 'irrelevant' in Ukraine because it sends too few arms, says defence expert

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (L) and French Fresident Emmanuel Macron shake hands after giving a press conference in Kyiv, on June 16, 2022 - LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (L) and French Fresident Emmanuel Macron shake hands after giving a press conference in Kyiv, on June 16, 2022 - LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP

France is becoming “irrelevant” in the Ukraine war and should do more to bump up its meagre supply of weapons, a top French defence expert has warned.

Concerns that President Emmanuel Macron is not pulling his weight in military support to Ukraine compared to countries like America and Britain came amid reports France would belatedly pledge six to 12 more high-tech artillery weapons on Monday.

Mr Macron could confirm transfer of the Caesar self-propelled howitzers when he meets German leaders in Berlin on Monday, in a package of new French support for Ukraine.

The country has so far given €233 million in military aid compared with €25 billion from the United States, €4 billion from Britain, €1.8 billion from Poland and €1.2 billion from Germany, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy last month.

“There is a gap between the ambitions displayed by France and the effort it provides to help Ukraine,” said François Heisbourg of the International Institute for Strategic Studies and one of the country’s top military strategists who has advised the President.

“Today, Paris has no weight in the conflict, nobody talks about French armaments apart from the Caesars. France’s support for Ukraine is far from what one would expect from such a large country,” he told Le Monde newspaper. He pointed out that France was supplying only a fifth of the military support that Britain had provided and overall around two per cent of foreign arms deliveries.

“The relative weakness of French military support tends to weaken our country’s credibility with our partners, particularly in eastern Europe. It contributes to maintaining the myth that French leaders are in fact ambiguous or even complacent with regard to Russia,” he said in a separate interview with LCI.

Ukrainian servicemen fire with a French self-propelled 155 mm/52-calibre gun Caesar towards Russian positions at a front line in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on June 15, 2022. - ARIS MESSINIS/AFP
Ukrainian servicemen fire with a French self-propelled 155 mm/52-calibre gun Caesar towards Russian positions at a front line in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on June 15, 2022. - ARIS MESSINIS/AFP

France has so far given 18 Caesar self-propelled artillery units, which are now feted along the Ukrainian front-line.

That represents one quarter of France’s entire mobile artillery and military chiefs had warned it could not give more without leaving it vulnerable in other regions like the Sahel.

However, up to 12 are due to be pledged, according to Le Monde.

While it may not sound huge, taking into account undisclosed aid, the true figure for French military support is at least €4 billion, according to Hélène Conway-Mouret, head of the senate defence committee.

Jérome Pellistrandi, editor of the National Defence Review, said France was supplying higher quality aid than some other countries, such as Poland, which has sent Soviet-era weaponry to Kyiv. “It might look like we are behind other countries, but France has every intention of playing its part,” he said.

Undisclosed aid is thought to include armoured fighting vehicles, trucks, Milan anti-tank missiles, Mistral anti-aircraft missiles and combat equipment such as body armour and binoculars.

However, after visiting Ukraine, Mr Heisbourg said few mentioned France’s support.

"When I was in Kyiv, everyone was very polite. I had no sense that the Ukrainians disapproved of us," he said. "In a way it was worse. I had the distinct feeling we were becoming irrelevant.”

Debate over French contributions came as the country's prime minister Elisabeth Borne told parliament on Monday that Western sanctions were "suffocating" the Russian economy and should not be abandoned.

France's Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne delivers a speech during a session of questions to the government at The National Assembly in Paris on October 3, 2022. - ALAIN JOCARD/AFP
France's Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne delivers a speech during a session of questions to the government at The National Assembly in Paris on October 3, 2022. - ALAIN JOCARD/AFP

"Our objective has been the same from the start: making the cost of the war unbearable for Russia, hitting its economy hard to prevent it from financing its offensive," she told MPs on their first day back after the summer break.

"Moscow is trying to keep up its illusion. But the facts are there. Russian propaganda shouldn't fool us. The Russian economy is suffocating," she added.

Ms Borne's remarks were in part aimed at parties in opposition to her minority government, notably the National Rally which has previously received loans from Russian banks and whose de facto leader Marine Le Pen was photographed shaking hands with President Vladimir Putin.

"Abandoning the sanctions would be abandoning Ukraine. It would be giving up on our values. It would be submitting to Russia. France, patriotism, means not abandoning, not giving up, not submitting," she said.

"These sanctions, whether those who conceal their fascination for Russian imperialism with claims of patriotism like it or not, are working."