Don’t humiliate Putin? Divisions show in West’s Ukraine supportJune 11, 2022
The E.U. oil embargo was held up and watered down by protests led by Hungarian strongman Viktor Orbán, and NATO’s big moment to showcase its Nordic expansion has been undermined by Turkish objections. But while those issues have been driven by a pair of perennial troublemakers in the West’s midst, the cracks are clearest over arming Ukraine and confronting how the war might end.
Over the weekend Macron told French newspapers that the West shouldn’t humiliate Putin but instead allow him an “exit ramp through diplomatic means.”
The anger from Ukraine was swift. To it, Macron’s comments were a capitulation, offensive musings about the wisdom of humiliating an aggressor when its people are being slaughtered.
“Calls to avoid humiliation of Russia can only humiliate France and every other country that would call for it,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted.
NBC News has reached out by email to Macron’s office for comment.
In Italy, the government is split over sending more weapons. One opponent is Matteo Salvini, the leader of the right-wing League party, who once signed a cooperation deal with Putin’s party and posed wearing a Putin T-shirt in Red Square.
Germany, meanwhile, announced last week that it will supply Ukraine with state-of-the-art anti-aircraft and radar systems. But, after years of criticism for Berlin’s willingness to cultivate economic ties with Putin’s Russia, Chancellor Olaf Scholz has also been accused of slow-rolling weapons deliveries and declining to state that “Ukraine must win.”
Asked about his reluctance, Scholz has said, “I am not Kaiser Wilhelm” — a reference to the man who led Germany into World War I. Berlin has also always leaned pacifist as a reaction to its Nazi past.
Scholz is adamant that he cannot understand the criticism, telling the German broadcaster ZDF last month that he was not being too cautious — just trying to “act prudently and with a clear mind.”
History also weighs on Macron. His desire not to humiliate Russia has been interpreted as a reference to the severe penalties that were imposed on Germany after World War I, which some historians say created the conditions for the rise of the Nazis and World War II.
“Germany, France and Italy are all struggling with the shadows from the past,” said French analyst Fabrice Pothier, NATO’s former head of policy planning.
The West faces a Catch-22 over Ukraine, said Pothier, who is now a consulting senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London think tank. “To defeat Russia in a significant way will mean we have to be much more directly involved,” he said. “But we cannot let Ukraine be defeated, either.”
Most of Eastern Europe has led the way with weapons shipments to Kyiv and forthright denouncements of Putin. For those countries, it’s about survival: Putin could easily turn on them.
The U.K. and the U.S recently agreed to provide Ukraine with advanced rocket systems.
But some still have seen equivocation within the administration of President Joe Biden, particularly after he stipulated that such weapons shouldn’t be used to attack Russian territory — the first such limitation applied to any assistance the West has provided to Kyiv.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said last that there had been “many eulogies written prematurely” about Western unity, and he maintained that the alliance was holding.
For some, ensuring Russian soil isn’t attacked with U.S. arms is a wise move to prevent escalation. For others, it’s a clear sign to Putin that he has unnerved the West.
For some observers in Europe, Washington often gets an easier ride than Paris or Berlin because of the narrative that France and Germany aren’t doing enough.
Had Biden’s caveat come from those European capitals, “there would have been an outburst,” said Gustav Gressel, a former desk officer at the Austrian Defense Ministry who is now a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. “If Scholz had said the same thing, it would have rung the alarm bells about appeasement.”