By Dominic Lawson for the Daily Mail
15 May 2022
To no one’s surprise, Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest. The popular vote, if not the panel of judges, was always going to be swayed by the intense sympathy for the Ukrainian people while their nation is subjected to bombardment and outright war crimes by Russia.
I don’t suppose the other national placings were similarly affected by such moral passions, but in this context there was still something symbolic in the fact that the British entry came second, while those of Germany and France were last and second last respectively.
For among those European nations, it is the UK which has been, from the start, the most outspoken in its support for the absolute right of the Ukrainian people to make no concession to Moscow’s demands, and which was the first to supply the weaponry Kyiv needs to resist and repel the invader.
By contrast, Germany and France trusted President Putin’s assurances that he would not invade, scorned British and U.S. intelligence assessments that he was lying, and then — when Russian troops duly did head for Kyiv — wrote off Ukraine’s chances of mounting any resistance.
Perhaps it was in reference to this that Ukraine’s special envoy on sanctions, Oleksii Makeiev, tweeted on the Eurovision result: ‘It should have been yours, [Britain]. But you, Brits, are those Europeans who know what’s right and what’s wrong. Thank you!’
Also over the weekend, it was Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky himself who made the most stinging direct criticism of his French opposite number’s continued futile attempts to pow-wow with Putin, to somehow cobble together a way for the Russian leader to exit without ‘loss of face’.
In an interview with the Italian television channel Rai 1, Zelensky said: ‘[President] Macron does it in vain … Ukraine is not ready to sacrifice territory and sovereignty. This is a waste of time.’
A leader of an EU member state, Estonia, criticised Macron (though not by name) for the same reason over the weekend. That country’s Prime Minister, Kaja Kallas, remarked: ‘If we want to get the message through that actually ‘You are isolated’, don’t call [Putin]. There’s no point. To me, it’s the question: why talk to him? He’s a war criminal.’
In fact, one of the most prominent presenters on Russia’s main state broadcast channel, Rossiya 1, also ridiculed Macron’s persistent telephoning of Putin. Vladimir Solovyov declared there to be a new political term, which he called ‘to do a Macron’, defining it as ‘to ring up constantly for no reason’.
One of Solovyov’s colleagues, on the same programme, argued that the only European country which had significant influence over Ukraine is … the UK. Against the backdrop of a giant picture of Boris Johnson, he railed: ‘Today the British really are the masters of Ukraine. Right there in their pocket they’ve got Zelensky. It’s bitter for me to recognise it.’
The closeness of the Prime Minister to the Ukrainian President seems no less bitter for Macron to accept. He threw a strop when Johnson popped up in Kyiv on a televised walk-about with Zelensky, and called off his own trip to the Ukrainian capital, which he had been due to make as the current President of the Council of the European Union.
As the French journalist Francois Valentin wrote on the UnHerd website: ‘Macron’s irritation reflects [the fact that his] long-established stance on the need for Europe to become a strategically autonomous actor in its own right could have been an effective pitch, but instead the once-derided ‘Global Britain’ has taken pole position.’
It was, though, last September that the most devastating blow to Macron’s pride on the geo-political stage was dealt. This was the AUKUS deal, in which the U.S. and the UK signed an agreement to supply nuclear-powered submarines to Australia, worth many tens of billions of pounds, as part of the strategy to counter China’s threat in what is termed the Indo-Pacific region.
The humiliation to Macron was extreme, because Paris had negotiated just such an arrangement with the Australians themselves — and with the French to supply the submarines. But the Aussies did a switcheroo, keeping the French completely in the dark.
So enraged was Macron that he ordered the recall of his ambassadors from Washington and Canberra. As the newspaper Le Monde observed: ‘French frustration is all the greater … as since Brexit, Paris tended to consider the British ambitions with regard to the Indo-Pacific basin to be illusory. AUKUS puts the UK ahead of the game.’
Clearly, this is unconnected with the matter of European security. But here, too, the French President’s grand designs have been spectacularly confounded by the facts on the ground.
In October 2019, Macron had declared, unforgettably: ‘We are currently experiencing the brain death of Nato.’
His main point, understandable given that the U.S. president was then Donald Trump, had been that Europe could no longer depend on the U.S. and would need a military arrangement which was entirely self-sufficient.
What may be less well remembered is that Macron accompanied this with the observation that it was time for the European members of Nato to question ‘the unarticulated assumption … that the enemy is still Russia’.
This, obviously, was music to the ears of the man in the Kremlin. Putin’s spokesman responded to Macron’s statement: ‘Truthful words — ones that get to the nub of the matter.’
How cataclysmically ill-judged Macron’s words now look. And how wise was the UK’s decision, after Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, to launch Operation Orbital, in which the British military trained Ukrainian soldiers and instituted a close working relationship between the countries’ Armed Forces.
Although, as things have developed over the past two months, it is now our own soldiers who could learn much from their Ukrainian opposite numbers about best tactics in modern warfare.
But perhaps the most striking refutation of Macron’s claims is not the UK’s role, but that of the United States. Washington has contributed vastly more to the defence of Ukraine, not least in sheer monetary scale, than the entire European Union combined.
America’s lethal aid to Kyiv, in terms of materiel and intelligence, through its unique surveillance technology, has been the single biggest factor in the ability of the underdog to force back the world’s second largest military force.
Fascinatingly, it has been an Irishman, Eoin Drea, formerly employed at the European Commission and now working at the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, who has made the most powerful case for the U.S. and the UK.
In his article, ‘The Anglosphere is saving Ukraine, while the EU is saving itself’, Drea wrote on May 9: ‘If Ukrainians were relying on the EU alone, the war might already be over. And we’d be looking at a weak, dismembered and Russia-controlled Ukraine.
‘Such has been the speed of Britain’s response, even President Zelensky acknowledged that other countries should ‘follow the example of the UK’. So much for Washington and London not caring about Europe.’
He went on: ‘The real lesson to be drawn from all this is that rhetoric about European ‘strategic autonomy’ is a Parisian fantasy given oxygen by Brussels … A little humility is required . . . The EU cannot project power in its immediate neighbourhood, nor act as a significant military partner for the U.S. or Britain.’
These are devastating words, coming from someone with such connections with the Brussels elite.
Doubtless Emmanuel Macron would reject them, and also insist that he is doing nothing ignoble in trying to find a way of allowing Russia to extract itself from Ukraine in a manner that would not humiliate the world’s largest country.
But Macron is wrong about that, too. As Andrei Kozyrev, the former Russian foreign minister (under Boris Yeltsin), observed even before the latest news of multiple military setbacks for Moscow: ‘Vladimir Putin does not need to be led by hand out of this. He went into this war and he will find his way out, but only if he smells defeat.’
In other words: unplug your hotline to the Kremlin, Mr Macron.