Emmanuel Macron’s Ukraine Charm Offensive

President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris welcomes Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in Paris on May 14, 2023. (Photo by Andrea Savorani Neri/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

French President Emmanuel Macron once warned that letting Ukraine into NATO would be seen as “confrontational” by Russia. But lately he has changed his tune, backing Ukraine’s bid for membership as a means of bringing the war in Ukraine to an early end. Confused? Sometimes, the most cynical explanation is the right one.

The news of detailed discussions at the Elysée about Ukraine’s path to membership came just three weeks after Macron’s trip to Bratislava, Slovakia. During the trip, he extended an olive branch to Russia hawks from NATO’s eastern front—recognizing that they were right about Russia while musing about the need for effective security guarantees for Ukraine.

Macron is substantively correct in making the case for Ukraine’s membership. However, that does not mean that he is sincere and determined to push the enlargement agenda forward. The NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, will be illuminating. 

Macron’s sudden enthusiasm for Ukraine’s place in NATO should be read against the background of the Biden administration carefully managing expectations about the embattled country’s future in the alliance. There appear to be different views within its highest levels. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, for example, seems enthusiastic about the prospect of Ukrainian membership. Meanwhile, national security adviser Jake Sullivan seems less convinced. President Biden’s quips—“we won’t make it easy,” for example—suggest the U.S. is not ready to commit to a binding timeline for Ukraine’s membership.

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