European Debates on the Russia-Ukraine Conflict


On  February 26, 2024, France’s President Emmanuel Macron explained that he refused to rule out sending ground troops to Ukraine, but he admitted that no consensus existed on the move, at a meeting of 20 mainly European leaders in Paris to ramp up the European response to Russian military advances inside Ukraine.

The remarks by President Macron about the possibility of sending troops to support Ukraine in its military confrontation against Russia have provoked tensions not only with the Russian authorities but also within the Western alliance, especially among European states. On  March 9, 2024, Russia requested a UN Security Council meeting to discuss Macron’s idea to send troops to Ukraine. However, after Macron raised the possibility that troops could be sent to Ukraine, Berlin and many other European capitals objected. Nevertheless, Baltic ministers praised France for “thinking out of the box.” It appears that France is building an alliance of countries open to potentially sending Western troops to Ukraine — and in the process deepening its clash with a more cautious Berlin. Indeed, beyond the German case, most European states — including the Czech Republic and Poland — said that they had no such plans. However, the three Baltic countries — the most exposed to any Russian attack should Moscow succeed in its war against Ukraine — are much more open to the idea.

Confronted with a divided Europe and a lack of support from Washington, French Minister of Defense Sébastien Lecornu explained on March 8, 2024 that the deployment of Western combat troops to fight against Russia on the ground in Ukraine is not on the table but new ways need to be found to contain the Ukraine-Russia war.

The fear of escalation is today one of the main drivers explaining the behavior of European states toward the Russia-Ukraine war. This is one point of divergence with Ukrainian authorities that do not see the fear of escalation as a factor that should be decisive in shaping European military support to their war effort against Russia. According to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, this fear of escalation is the result of a European misunderstanding of Russian foreign policy. He asked his European allies the following questions: “What kind of escalation are you afraid of? What else has to happen to Ukraine for you to understand that this fear is useless? What do you expect Putin to do? ‘Well I sent tanks but I did not send the missiles or troops, so maybe you’ll be nicer to me than to others?’ That’s not how Putin thinks, that’s not how he treats Europe.” This point of view underlines that the debate regarding the possibility to send troops to Ukraine reveals profound differences in warfare cultures among European allies.

European deputies have taken stock of the two years since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on  February 24, 2022. The war has fundamentally changed the geopolitical situation in Europe and beyond, they point out that the main objective is for Ukraine to win the war, warning of serious consequences if this does not happen. The European debate is now focusing on the potential confiscation of Russian frozen assets to support Ukraine’s reconstruction. According to the supporters of seizing Russian frozen assets, the $290 billion of Russian sovereign assets frozen in the West — two-thirds of which is situated in Europe — would make a huge difference in Ukraine both during and after the war. This could provide stable financial support to Ukraine. Nevertheless, this step will also increase the risk of military escalation with Russia.

Eventually, European states are also discussing an increase of weapons delivery to Ukraine including ammunition, artillery, missiles, drones and air-defense systems. This debate is simultaneously taking place at the domestic level within European states and at the broader level between European states.. This European debate is very tense in the context of the elections for the European Parliament which will take place in June 2024. The rising polarization is between centrist political parties that are keen to use the fear of a Russian military escalation as a tool to challenge populist parties accused of being pro-Russian.

There is also a divergence in views between political elites and the general public as apparent in France. Three quarters of French people (74%) are opposed to sending soldiers to Ukrainian soil. This political use of the war as a tool to promote the electoral agenda is risky given the economic context. Indeed, the economic cost of the war for European welfare states is also an explanation for rising inflation, especially spiked energy prices. The prospect of increased European military support to Ukraine’s war effort will depend on the European political elite’s capabilities to convince the public that a war with Russia is not on their agenda and that the economic consequences of their support will be controlled and limited.

Editorial Team