Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz have finally changed tone on Ukraine, but will rhetoric match reality?

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Olaf Scholz and Emmanuel Macron made a long-overdue joint trip to Kyiv this month - Alexey Furman/Getty Images Europe
Olaf Scholz and Emmanuel Macron made a long-overdue joint trip to Kyiv this month - Alexey Furman/Getty Images Europe

They won’t ever admit it but Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz know they got it wrong on Ukraine.

Failed attempts at diplomacy with Vladimir Putin left France and Germany looking like the weak links in the Western alliance against Russia.

Both leaders muddied the waters with ill-judged talk about not humiliating Russia, claims of being “mediating” powers, and bad-tempered snippiness over slow weapon deliveries.

It all contrasted sharply with the clear unambiguous message that Putin must be defeated from hawkish countries such as the UK, Poland and the Baltic nations.

The damaging perception took root that Mr Macron and Mr Scholz were willing to force Ukraine into an unjust peace to protect their economic links to Moscow.

Volodymr Zelensky suggested Mr Macron told him he would have to cede territory to Russia to get peace.

Boris Johnson said he would urge his fellow leaders to agree there would be no such appeasement at the G7 summit, which ended on Tuesday.

The G7 summit was held in the Bavarian Alps - Markus Schreiber/Pool AP
The G7 summit was held in the Bavarian Alps - Markus Schreiber/Pool AP

Neither the French president nor the German chancellor is an appeaser of Putin. Both have sent heavy weapons and aid to Ukraine and imposed sanctions on Moscow, which have harmed their economies.

Mr Scholz’s decision to revolutionise defence spending is genuinely historic, especially for a country with Germany’s wartime history.

He has refused to impose an immediate Russian gas ban but did at least cancel the Nord Stream 2 pipeline as soon as Putin invaded Ukraine

Mr Macron has dropped years of French opposition to EU enlargement to enthusiastically back Ukraine’s bid to join the bloc, which was approved at a European Council summit last week.

Even so, the EU’s two most influential leaders looked at best half-hearted in their support of Mr Zelensky, no matter how many clarifications and corrections they issued.

Boris Johnson jokes with Mr Scholz and Mr Macron at the G7 summit - Matthias Schrader/AP
Boris Johnson jokes with Mr Scholz and Mr Macron at the G7 summit - Matthias Schrader/AP

Mr Scholz’s gnomic cod-Merkelian reticence to give Putin both barrels doesn’t play well in wartime.

Mr Macron only has himself to blame for his too-clever-by-half geopolitical theorising and aspirations of France being a “mediating power” to peace.

Almost five months after the invasion, both men are now taking steps to make good their botched response to the war.

Germany has taken the unprecedented step for a Western European power of publishing lists of weapons it has sent to Ukraine to prove the arms are actually getting there after previous delays.

Mr Scholz on Tuesday said that the years of cosy relations with Russia were over. “There cannot be a return to the time before the Russian aggression on Ukraine, because when the situation changes, we, too, must change,” Mr Scholz said.

The Nato summit in Madrid will be an opportunity for the two leaders to restate their support for Ukraine after the G7.

Mr Scholz and Mr Macron insist they always said that Ukraine must agree the terms of its own peace - POOL/REUTERS
Mr Scholz and Mr Macron insist they always said that Ukraine must agree the terms of its own peace - POOL/REUTERS

A joint statement agreed by the leaders at the G7 made it explicit that no pressure would be put on Kyiv to agree a peace deal and that Ukraine alone should decide its future. It also promised weapon supplies to Ukraine “for as long as it takes”.

Mr Scholz and Mr Macron insist they always said that Ukraine must agree the terms of its own peace but the statement was necessary to lance what has become a festering boil.

Mr Johnson’s tough line on Putin is now in the ascendant with Paris and Berlin moving incrementally towards his position and that of Europe’s hawks.

Mr Scholz and Mr Macron made a long-overdue joint trip to Kyiv this month during which Mr Macron declared, “Ukraine must win”.

It is not quite the same as “Putin must fail” but it is a marked improvement.

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