One would, of course, prefer that the tanks were already delivered and the jets on their way. Thus, Ukraine could win victories faster, forcing the Kremlin to negotiate its withdrawal, and fewer young lives, Russian and Ukrainian, would be taken every day. We, Europeans are too slow to respond to Volodymyr Zelensky’s pleas for help, but do we, the French, have that many reasons to be so self-flagellating?
The British Prime Minister seems to be promising fighter jets to the Ukrainian president and immediately we are making him a hero, next to whom we look like nothing but wimps looking for a second Munich. Volodymyr Zelensky leaves Paris without plenty of Rafales in his pockets and shame on Scholz and Macron who fear, as they are immediately accused, of incurring the wrath of Vladimir Putin. Joe Biden is preparing to go to Poland, the hub of arms deliveries to Ukraine, and this would be the proof, it is said, irrefutable, definitive, that neither Paris nor Berlin count any more in the eyes of the Americans, that the Poles will soon constitute the first army in Europe, far ahead of us, the French, and that they will thus shift the centre of gravity of the Union to the East.
Since the Ukrainian president’s London-Paris-Brussels trip, this has been the dominant refrain. We would be useless, dead, swept away by history, we keep hearing, but before proceeding to our collective burial, let us not forget that French arms are infinitely precious to Ukraine, that it was France that convinced the rest of the Union to grant it the status of candidate country, and let us review the facts.
The British Prime Minister had barely raised Ukraine’s hopes when Ben Wallace, its Defence Secretary, already tempered his words. Like France, the UK is not ruling anything out but nothing is decided and even less done. If France is a coward, it is not the only one and neither it nor Great Britain are in fact cowards, because the problem is not whether or not to defy Mr Putin.
On both sides of the Channel, as on both sides of the Atlantic, all Western capitals simply have to ask themselves legitimate and necessary questions. With their ultra-modern and difficult-to-handle fighter planes, how would Ukrainian pilots manage to avoid any risk of crossing the Russian border and thus putting Atlantic Alliance and Russian Federation aircraft face to face? To what extent, secondly, could the Ukrainian general staff and leadership oblige themselves not to use these European and American aircraft to enter Crimean airspace, even though this peninsula, which has been annexed by Russia, unquestionably belongs to Ukraine?
How to organise and where, third question, the maintenance that these aircraft require? And how many of these fighter planes, fourth question, can the EU countries give to Ukraine without dividing their public opinion and without compromising, above all, their own security, which is at stake not only in the Ukrainian skies but also in their own?
No responsible leader can satisfy Ukrainian demands until they have answers to these questions and the new element is not that Volodymyr Zelensky did not leave France in a Rafale. The three major facts of the past week are that these deliveries are no longer excluded by Europe whereas they are still excluded by the United States, that the French President declared that Russia could not and should not win and that the German Chancellor travelled to Paris to associate himself with this French position which has become Franco-German.
This is a turning point. One year after Vladimir Putin perpetrated his aggression, he is faced not only with a Euro-Atlantic front but also with a European Union that is unanimous, apart from Hungary, in its determination to support and arm Ukraine. In the test of fire, the Union is asserting itself as a political union and, far from drifting anywhere, it is in the process of forging a new unity around an essential trio – Paris, Warsaw, Berlin – which has been in the making for a long time and is now welded together by the increase in Polish and German military spending.