French President Emmanuel Macron's statements about security guarantees to Russia should be viewed against the backdrop of his desire to shape a foreign policy in Europe that differs from that of the United States, and we should be particularly concerned about the disagreements in the attitude of Western countries towards Russia that this reveals, security expert Kristi Raik says.
Appearing on Vikerraadio show "Uudis+" Monday, Raik, director of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute, part of the International Center for Defense and Security (ICDS), said: "France exhibits a very strong desire to be a leader in Europe, and a desire for Europe to be an independent actor, a force in world politics, whose positions are somewhat different from those of the US."
"France is always happy to emphasize that Europe's positions and those of the US may not be completely identical," she went on.
Central and Eastern European (CEE) nations, as well as the Nordic countries, tend to opt for the US lead rather than France, in respect of Europe's security architecture in relation to Russia, Raik said. For this reason, Raik said she is concerned about what happens after the war Russia has prosecuted against Ukraine is over.
"In that case [it appears that] disagreements are deep between European countries on the issue of what our relations with Russia should look like in future; these still exist, they have not gone anywhere. Once they get to the negotiating table, these will reemerge again, meaning the unity of Europe is in jeopardy," Raik went on.
Raik said that Macron's comments on Russia published on Saturday were very controversial overall, but did contain some areas which were more amenable to this region of Europe.
"He also said plenty of correct things, from our point of view, and from Ukraine's point of view, on supporting Ukraine. He also for example gave support to the idea that Ukraine could retake Crimea if it wants to, which is a very important message and one which has not been heard from France before."
"However, he then also managed to say something that is completely unacceptable to many CEE nations, namely the claim that Putin's Russia should be offered security guarantees," Raik went on.
Behind all this is Macron's long-term desire to reach agreement with Russia on a new European security architecture, Raik said. "This is a topic that he has been talking about for years, and it seems that he has a very strong view on it, which makes it particularly problematic."
"His understanding is this: That when the war has finished, sitting down at the negotiating table with Russia and agreeing on a new European security architecture is required. Now he is even saying that security guarantees must be offered to Russia."
According to Raik, the concept of starting to negotiate with Russia on the future of European security is very questionable in the current situation, and all the more so since Macron himself has admitted in his joint statement with US President Joe Biden that Russia must be held accountable for the war crimes committed.
"So, on the one hand, he seems to imply, that he does not refer to Putin as a war criminal, but then he implies that Putin must be responsible for war crimes [in any case]. On the other hand, he has never ruled out the possibility that, ultimately, the solution to this war will still come about via an agreement with Putin," Raik continued.
"One might like to think that Macron was instead referring to a future Russian leader who would come to power after Putin. But what was particularly disturbing about his comment about security guarantees was that he directly referred to Putin's demands, and the concern expressed by Putin that the expansion of NATO to Russia's borders is a security threat for Russia," Raik continued.
Raik added that this was also reneging on the line taken with Putin late in 2021.
"In this way, he made it clear that if these negotiations with Russia start, they should also be based on the demands Putin made to Europe and Western countries a year ago."
"Even though at that time there was a very clear answer that it was not possible to even begin negotiations based on these demands – that they were unacceptable," he added.
Among the demands presented by Russia last autumn was the preceise fact that the NATO expansion should not only be halted, but the alliance's boundaries should be rowed back to where they were in 1997 – before Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were member states.
"My view is that Russia has once again gotten a message that the West is not very united in respect of Russia, while Western European leaders are willing to negotiate in the future based on Russia's demands, or at least want to take into account Russia's demands. Naturally, this is a very welcome signal to the Kremlin," Raik summed up.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mait Ots