“Madness does the same thing over and over,” as the saying goes, “and expects different results.” Otherwise, how can French President Emmanuel Macron’s efforts to end the Russian invasion of Ukraine be described by the constant pursuit of re-engagement with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin?
Other than confirming the well-established fact that Putin is a malicious and ill-intentioned actor, there is not much that can be learned from the transcript of a phone conversation between Macron and Putin, held four days before the invasion. The script was published as part of an Elysée-licensed TV documentary, hoping to improve Macron’s credentials as a global dealmaker.
However, this is not the impression one makes of the head of France’s “Jupiter”. Putin, who is punishing Macron, is angry at the Ukrainian “coup” in 2014, in which he “burned people alive.” Instead of challenging this nonsense, Macron assured Putin that he “is doing it [his] Better to pay “the Ukrainians and try to lure him to stay at the negotiating table with the possibility of a one-on-one meeting with President Biden in Geneva.
The rest, as they say, is history. However, the mystery was Macron’s willingness to talk to and humiliate Putin again and again, even after such an apparently fruitless experience. In fact, Macron recently mentioned a “hundred-hour” conversation he’s had with Putin since December.
To what end?
The most benevolent way to understand Macron’s strategy is through the figure of his mentor, the philosopher Paul Ricoeur, from whom he quotes his penchant for synthesizing seemingly irreconcilable situations and courses of action.
Macron’s own political movement, LREM, and his candidacy were a way to bypass the political left and right. In 2017 and this year, he defeated populist candidates in presidential elections while he himself was a populist scatterer. He wants a state that protects workers, while at the same time pushing, albeit with mixed results, for the liberalization of France’s ossified labor markets.
The philosophy of “at the same time” – “en même temps” – puts France in the position of a supposedly impartial and trustworthy mediator in the current war and a major supplier of military equipment to Ukraine. Just as Macron spoke of the dangers of “humiliating Russia” in order to “build a slope out through diplomatic means,” the Caesar cannons provided by France were making a real difference to the defensive efforts in the Donbass.
However, the statesman must not allow any theory, however sophisticated or elegant, to blind him from reality. For anyone not fond of Continental philosophy, Macron’s initial attempt to reach Putin through the high-profile summit at Versailles in 2017 was clearly a dead end. Rather than learning from an early mistake, the French leader insisted that whatever was going on in the West’s deteriorating relationship with Russia was a ready nail for Ricorian’s hammer.
Eastern Europe is not a seminar room of the Sorbonne. There is no clever way to “overcome” a confrontation with a bully trapped in his ideological-driven worldview who seeks to return Mother Russia, long humiliated by the West, to its rightful place by trampling on its freedom and self-determination. Neighbour. The only language bullies understand is the language of tough, relentless force.
Yes, Russia’s war against Ukraine will eventually come to an end, and will likely involve a political settlement, perhaps even a handshake with Putin. What Macron’s philosophy fails to realize is that the time for such a settlement will come only after the basic lines of such a settlement have been established on the battlefield.
Today, there should be only one consideration guiding the actions of France, as well as the actions of other Western allies: the better Ukraine does in the current war, the stronger it (and the collective West) will be at the negotiating table.
Dalibor Rohk is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC. Twitter: @DaliborRohac.
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