French President Emmanuel Macron has put off his visit to Ukraine, officially scheduled for this week, citing “security concerns.” The French government has not issued any public statement. Macron’s change of plans was revealed in the French Magazine Challenges. Macron’s effusive promises to Ukraine may now be on hold.
Macron was expected to make a number of attractive offers to Ukraine including (1) new warplanes (2) reconstruction aid and (3) a bilateral security guarantee agreement.
The Mirage 2000 goes back to 1986 but the D model comes later, entering service in 1995. Designated as a “Diversifie/Multirole” model, unlike its predecessors it was not engineered to carry nuclear weapons. It does, however, carry the SCALP-EG, which is the French-version of the Franco-British Storm Shadow, which Ukraine has been using. To handle the SCALP cruise missiles, the Ukrainians rely on the Su-24S which has been specially modified. Originally Ukraine had 24 Su-24s, but 18 of them have been shot down, damaged or destroyed by the Russians. To protect these aircraft, Ukraine keeps them at the Starokostiantyniv air base in western Ukraine, far from Russian air defense systems. The Russians have repeatedly bombed this base.
The French Air Force initially had 86 Mirage 2000D (all the other models have been retired). The Air Force decided to retain 55 of them, after improvements and modifications, and retire the remaining 20 platforms. It is these 20 Ukraine wants.
At present there is no answer whether France will hand over the surplus Mirage 2000Ds. Even if the French are pushed into offering them, there are multiple problems.
The Mirage 2000 series requires significant logistical and maintenance support, none of which exists in Ukraine. Ukraine, which already is facing severe challenges in supporting used F-16s coming from Europe, would now have to maintain a totally different aircraft, meaning Ukraine would need to find the technicians, build parts and supply warehouses, to support non-replaceable aircraft. Likewise the Mirage 2000D means pilots will have to be trained to operate them. Ukraine has already lost most of its qualified top gun-type pilots, so it will need to start from scratch. Even if France sent the planes tomorrow to Ukraine, at least a year of training will be needed for pilots to adapt to them. Unfortunately, the Mirage 2000D was designed mostly as a ground-attack plane; it would face Russian top of the line air superiority fighters in the class of the Su-35 and, as a result, would fare badly from such encounters. Whether this type of jet can survive Russian air defense systems, including mobile platforms such as Pantsir, is open to doubt.
Macron was also supposed to coordinate his visit with an organization called MEDEF International. MEDEF is a non-profit organization created by the French Business Council. It was to go with Macron to set up a reconstruction program in Ukraine that would, in practice, significantly benefit French companies. It is in parallel to what the EU and the US are doing toward the same goal. All are looking to use post-war donations to boost each of the participants’ private sector. It is not clear if MEDEF would go to Ukraine without Macron, but it is unlikely. Macron was looking to leverage France’s weapons’ donations with money back from the EU (and maybe the US) for its private companies “rebuilding” Ukraine.
The third goal of Macron’s visit was to offer Ukraine a bilateral security guarantee deal under which Paris would deliver more sophisticated weaponry, including long-range cruise missiles. Just like the French, the Germans are offering Ukraine a bilateral security “guarantee” and plan to sign it at the Munich Security Conference. The UK in January already signed a security guarantee for Ukraine, part of a package of security agreements promised at the Vilnius Summit. At that meeting in Vilnius, G7 the US, Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Japan signed a Joint Declaration (PDF) committing to the creation of long term security guarantees for Ukraine.
THe US started negotiating a bilateral security guarantee for Ukraine in August, 2023 but has not reached any agreement as yet.
None of these agreements have or will have mutual security pledges in case of an external attack (something NATO offers under Articles 4 and 5 of the NATO Treaty).
It is worth considering that despite Western claims that Russia’s Special Military Operation (SMO) was an invasion of Ukraine and constitutes aggression, NATO partners are stymied by the fact that the United Nations has made no such declaration. This is important because the NATO Treaty in Article 1 directly invokes the United Nations in the following treaty language: “The Parties undertake, as set forth in the Charter of the United Nations, to settle any international dispute in which they may be involved by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered, and to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.” As the SMO cannot be labelled an aggression under the UN, NATO is not in a legal position to offer Ukraine NATO membership, at least while the current war is going on.
Thus the Europeans are offering security guarantees that actually are not guarantees. Even the promise of weapons is not a guarantee, for the simple reason that Europe has to have weapons it can hand over to Ukraine. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Euro-weapons are becoming an endangered species.
Why Did Macron Cancel?
Did Macron have second thoughts about handing over money and weapons to Ukraine? There is some evidence that is the case, as political commentators in France are saying that while Ukraine is getting handouts, suffering French farmers are getting nothing. But Macron also says Ukraine will be a long conflict and France will support Ukraine. On February 10th Macron announced an Artillery Coalition with the United States to send more Caesar 155mm artillery systems, a self-propelled howitzer, to Ukraine, leaving the French arsenal nearly empty.
Internally the French president is under pressure not only from farmers but also from the political right. Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN) will likely win the French portion of the EU election, upsetting Macron’s Renaissance Party. Le Pen has consistently opposed economic sanctions on Russia and French and European deliveries of weapons to Ukraine. While her party’s vote in the EU parliament won’t by itself change the direction of Europe, there is a growing tendency in Europe to vote right and to be increasingly critical of support for Ukraine.
Security Situation in Ukraine
The security situation in Ukraine is deteriorating, fed by dissonance inside the Ukrainian army and by a conscription drive that has led to violence, including the shooting of a Ukrainian conscription agent. Increasingly the Ukrainian government is using savage methods to go after potential recruits. There are now videos showing violence against them by government and police agents as well as violence against recruits once taken to army barracks. Incidents are widespread and growing.
Meanwhile some units of the Ukrainian army are in open revolt. A report coming from the front line near the village of Marinka from a group of soldiers in the Ukrainian 46th Separate AirMobile Brigade, demanded relief from the battlefront. The video statement (here translated) is quite amazing. An unnamed commander says: ““We are mobilized servicemen of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, we are located near the village of Marinka. For more than 18 months we have been defending the section of the front allocated to us. While we are shedding blood for our Motherland, the children of oligarchs and deputies are vacationing abroad, driving expensive cars, having fun in clubs, knowing that mobilization will not affect them. We have no ammunition, we are running out of food and water, we are abandoned by our commanders to certain death. We appeal to Mr. President, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine with a request to return us home, because we have already paid our debt to the Motherland, and we demand that the so-called “golden youth”, deputies who sit in their offices and steal the budget of Ukraine, are sent to the front. We require rotation. If there is no action on the part of the command, in the near future we will leave our positions and go to Kyiv. We are not against defending our Motherland, we are not traitors, but the actions of the command force us to act radically. Glory to Ukraine.”
Macron probably now knows that the Ukrainian government is sitting on tenterhooks. Crumbling around them are military units while the recruiting process and the new conscription law are starting to get a stiff, negative public reaction. The last thing Macron needs is to be associated with a humanitarian disaster while he is touting Ukraine and disregarding struggles inside France. Macron is in a trap.