What Macron's 'Security Guarantees' Mean for Ukraine War

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Ukraine is facing a grim festive period. Civilians are hunkered down in below-freezing conditions with periodic power as Russian missiles and drones continue Moscow's punishing infrastructure offensive.

Ukrainian troops, bogged down by mud, are still pushing forwards gradually in the south and northeast, while defenders around Bakhmut are locked in hellish combat with Russian regulars and mercenaries.

Despite the horror, the prospect of peace talks still appears near zero. Negotiations—which began the day of Russia's latest invasion on February 24—were from the beginning beset by mistrust and espionage, and soon collapsed entirely as the war deepened and Russian atrocities mounted.

Kyiv has adopted ambitious war goals: full liberation of all Ukrainian territory per its 1991 border including Crimea, war crime prosecutions for Russian leaders, reparations from Moscow, and future security guarantees akin to NATO membership.

French President Emmanuel Macron in Alicante Spain
Above, French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a joint press conference on the sidelines of the EU-Med9 summit on December 9, 2022, in Alicante, Spain. Macron is trying to coax Russian President Vladimir Putin back to the negotiating table, but it doesn't seem likely. LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP via Getty Images

The Kremlin has never abandoned its vague, yet extreme, hopes of "de-Nazification" and de-militarization of Ukraine, including the annexation of four partially-occupied Ukrainian territories and even regime change in Kyiv.

Kyiv and Moscow are living in two different realities. Insincere Kremlin appeals for renewed talks cannot bridge this gulf, nor can calls from European Union and NATO leaders like French President Emmanuel Macron for Western allies to thaw diplomatic channels with the Kremlin.

"We need to prepare what we are ready to do, how we protect our allies and member states, and how to give guarantees to Russia the day it returns to the negotiating table," Macron said last weekend during his visit to the U.S.

Macron was roundly rebuked by Ukrainian officials and NATO allies in the Baltic states, as he has been after previous attempts at outreach to the Kremlin.

"Russia doesn't need security guarantees, it has violated all security guarantees—including the Budapest Memorandum," Oleksandr Merezhko, the chair of the Ukrainian parliament's foreign affairs committee, told Newsweek. "It is Ukraine and other neighbors of Russia who need guarantees."

Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu echoed the public frustration emanating from the Baltic region. "I think that in the Kremlin and in Russia it would be interpreted as a certain weakness of the West," he told Newsweek of hypothetical fresh talks.

"To have dialogue with Putin's regime on security principles of Europe is, in my assessment, not the way to support Ukrainian victory...Putin and his accomplices—uniformed or not—should be held accountable for the atrocities of the war they have launched."

'Russia Will Be at the Table'

For Ukrainians and their allies in NATO's more hawkish nations, Macron's focus on peace poses the danger of undermining the unexpectedly unified Western response to Russia's invasion.

But Russia's war will have to conclude with negotiations of some kind, negotiations that cannot happen without working diplomatic channels.

Thomas Gomart, the director of the French Institute of International Relations, told Newsweek that Macron is pursuing a dual message.

"France supports Ukraine with absolutely no reservations, and second that in the end—and no one knows when the end will be, except presidents Zelensky and Putin, depending also on Putin's personal future—Russia will be at the table," he said.

"The basic idea is just to say that whatever the future is, and even if Russia is defeated, Russia will continue to exist," Gomart, who accompanied Macron on his recent visit to Washington, D.C., said. "It's as simple as that."

Vladimir Putin during security council meeting December
Above, Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council via a video conference call at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence, outside Moscow on December 6, 2022. Russia has not yet abandoned its vague goal of "de-Nazifying" Ukraine. MIKHAIL METZEL/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images

Macron has cast himself as Europe's premier statesman, especially since German Chancellor Angela Merkel left power in 2021. He will undoubtedly be central to any future EU-NATO outreach to Moscow.

"He wants to communicate with Putin, he wants to understand his intentions," Oleg Ignatov, Crisis Group's senior Russia analyst, told Newsweek. "That's why he is discussing this issue."

One Baltic diplomatic official who spoke with Newsweek on the condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to do so publicly, said his ministry "didn't freak out when we read what Macron said."

"This is not selling out the Ukrainians or us," the diplomat said, suggesting Macron's remarks may be primarily directed at French voters. "He is trying to show the public that, in theory, there's always this negotiating track open, and that EU member states—which are constantly providing military help to Ukraine—are not 'warmongers.'"

Newsweek reached out to the Élysée Palace for comment.

The French and the Germans, the diplomat said, are coordinating to present themselves as ready to talk with Moscow. But, they added, this does not mean the EU's pillar nations are about to abandon Kyiv.

Sarah Pagung, an associate fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations, told Newsweek that Scholz and his foreign policy team still prioritize a diplomatic solution to the conflict, a stance that has prompted fierce criticism from Ukraine and within the EU and NATO.

"Trust is too low" for meaningful proposals, Pagung said, "and everybody is waiting to see how winter will play out on the battlefield."

"The chancellor is driven by a rather diplomatic approach to the crisis," Pagung said, as well as fear that a future Ukrainian advance into occupied Crimea might prompt Russian nuclear weapon use. "They're definitely not for supporting Ukraine in a way that they have a realistic chance of reconquering most of Ukraine."

"It seems like they have the idea of this crisis that can somehow be managed or brought back to the status quo," Pagung said of Scholz and his small team of foreign policy advisers. "I'm not sure if they've really realized how deep this turn is."

'Neither Side Is Ready'

Regardless of European diplomatic maneuvering, there appears no appetite for talks in Kyiv and Moscow. "Neither side is ready for this," Ignatov said. "Right now, it's a conflict about land. Whenever that land issue is resolved, maybe they will be able to discuss security guarantees."

Barring a national collapse, Moscow is unlikely to volunteer major concessions. Before its latest invasion, the Kremlin proposed fanciful new treaties that would have prevented any further expansion of NATO—including admitting Ukraine; moving all NATO forces or weapons out of the 14 countries that joined the alliance after May 1997; banning intermediate-range missiles in Europe; and opening new talks on nuclear weapon restrictions.

"I've spoken with a lot of experts in Russia about this," Ignatov said. "They still think that Russia—the current leadership—will not forget about these two treaties."

"They think that the current system doesn't work anymore," Ignatov added, "and that if the West wants to discuss security guarantees, it should discuss how to build a completely new system."

Ukraine soldier watching MLRS firing in east
Above, a Ukrainian soldier watches a self-propelled "Bureviy" multiple rocket launcher firing towards Russian positions on the front line in eastern Ukraine on November 29, 2022. ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP via Getty Images

Ukraine has security demands of its own, having already paid a steep price for the right to decide its own future.

"Among such guarantees should be the denuclearization of Russia because it has blackmailed the whole world with nuclear weapons," Merezhko said. "Another security guarantee should be 'de-Putinization.'"

"The best security guarantee now, as proved by Russian aggression against Ukraine, is NATO membership," Merezhko said. "NATO, by definition, cannot present any danger to Russia because it is a defensive alliance which acts only if a NATO member state is attacked."

"Any requirement to prevent Ukraine's membership in NATO and to present it as a 'security guarantee' for Russia is absolutely absurd. It is the victim of the aggression which needs security guarantees, not the aggressor."

Newsweek reached out to the Russian Foreign Ministry for comment.

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