Macron's military plans: ambition without ammunition
    Shifting bellicose vector to South Caucasus

    ANALYTICS  06 March 2024 - 10:49

    Serhey Bohdan

    Throughout the week, French President Macron and his team have hinted at NATO's and France's readiness to go to war with Russia in Ukraine. At the same time, the French have continued to actively engage with Armenia, ensuring a hardening of Yerevan's position towards Russia. Of course, these moves by Macron do not look particularly convincing against the backdrop of France's continued constraints even in its traditional sphere of influence in Africa. But the risk of conflict in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus should not be underestimated. Especially since some Western states are led by politicians who are frankly incapable of pursuing a strategic line and whose seats are shaky. As a result, they are not acting as responsible statesmen, but rather as card players. And while only a miracle can save Eastern Europe from becoming a battlefield for global actors, Azerbaijan and Türkiye can neutralise such attempts in the South Caucasus.

    The march on Moscow: could it happen again?

    Following a summit in Paris on February 26 in support of Ukraine, Macron raised the possibility of sending NATO troops to fight against Russia in Ukraine. In his view, each EU country could decide to do so on its own. Understandably, this would be within the framework of the bilateral security guarantees that some European countries have recently signed with Ukraine. Macron's comments were immediately echoed by "Baby Macron". This is how the newly appointed French Prime Minister has been nicknamed for his imitation of his patron. On Thursday, Macron confirmed that NATO countries could join the war. Adding fuel to the fire, the French leader repeated his war threats as he unveiled the facilities for an event that has long symbolised the renunciation of war - the Olympic Games - to be held in Paris this summer.

    Macron's statements should be treated not as a warning from a responsible Western politician, but as an attempt to launch a series of dangerous political intrigues. Firstly, who is talking about it? The leader of a declining imperial power, which in recent years has suffered defeat after defeat at the hands of less powerful opponents in its attempts to maintain its neo-colonial sphere of influence in Africa. By the way, a couple of days before Macron's first speech about sending EU troops to fight in Ukraine, it became known that Paris-backed attempts to impose regional sanctions against another country that was freed from French neo-imperialism last summer - Niger - had failed.

    Second, even while voicing such far-reaching threats, Macron cannot hide the obvious reality of declining Western support for Ukraine. It is precisely because of the decline in this support that steps have recently begun to be taken towards the utilisation and confiscation of Russian assets in the EU and the US, and it is increasingly affecting private property as well. It recently emerged that at the June summit of the so-called "G7" American President Biden intends to present some kind of "plan to use Russian assets" to finance the Ukrainian state. The head of the European Commission von der Leyen has so far demanded that profits from frozen Russian assets be channelled to finance the supply of military equipment to Kyiv, but in fact the EU structures have started technical preparations for the seizure of the frozen assets of the Central Bank of Russia.

    These are forced measures due to the collective West's financial problems in financing the Ukrainian state. Western elites have previously tried to avoid taking these measures because by taking such a step, they will show the whole world that their loud words about property rights and the rule of law, in general, are lies. It is not that such things have never been done before, but the scale and circumstances there were not comparable (for example, the U.S. took money from Iran and Afghanistan after the change of regimes in these countries, but it was money that had already been given to the Americans in one way or another by the former rulers - for weapons, as a deposit, etc.). In general, entrepreneurs and politicians in the non-Western world, which is the majority of countries on the planet, will henceforth consider whether to keep their capital and property in the West, with all the ensuing consequences. Without non-Western money invested in their banks and real estate, the power of the Western powers will fizzle out.

    Following the Leopards, Abramses are on fire

    Several allies - Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Sweden, Hungary and the UK - have rejected Macron's comments, saying they will not send anyone to the Russian-Ukrainian war. But it needs to be nuanced. The objections probably have to do with the French leader's emphasis on the role of European countries (i.e. the EU) in his speech, and this is what the allies did not like. After all, they do not want to get into a fight with Russia without the United States, and the only way to hope for the latter's participation is to stay within NATO. Otherwise, Macron said what Polichinel already knew. NATO countries are not only supporting Ukraine in its war with Russia with arms and money. The participation of their military in hostilities against Russia has become a reality. The status of these troops is a complicated question; many may be formally "on holiday" or "retired", but the fact of their active participation in the war is undeniable. And these are no longer just accusations from the Russian side. German Chancellor Scholz recently spoke about the participation of the British and French military in missile strikes against Russian targets. Apparently, he is not happy with the French government's bellicose stance, and so he spoke out. Scholz was immediately criticised for revealing secrets.

    If current trends continue, the Western military is unlikely to avoid involvement in a war with Russia, although most Western countries would prefer to do so not under the "Macron option" but with some guarantees of US participation. And as the EU summits with the Balkan countries in Albania this week, with their unprecedented demands, have shown, the tendency "to war" remains. Offering its neighbours a handout with the arrogant name of "Growth Plan for the Balkans" and a mere penny - €6 billion (of which €4 billion was borrowed) - Brussels wants these countries not only to implement the reforms prescribed by the EU but also to follow the EU's foreign policy course. In particular, the European Parliament has explicitly stated that only those countries that fully and unconditionally support the EU's foreign and defence policy, including "restrictive measures against Russia", will receive the money.

    At the same time, EU members are not giving up hope of drawing the US into a possible "march to the east". It seems that their hopes are not unfounded. On Wednesday, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said: "If Ukraine falls, I believe NATO will join the fight against Russia in the near future." And on the same day, Ukrainian authorities signalled that the front could collapse as early as the summer and asked Western allies to send more ammunition. But it is unclear whether this will help, as it emerged on Thursday that the Ukrainian army had lost more than a third of its American Bradley BMPs (68 out of 186). Western equipment burns no worse than Soviet and post-Soviet equipment, and after images of burning Leopards and Bradleys were fatal to the image of the invincible Western hegemon, the first American Abrams tank was hit on Tuesday. But relying on Austin's assurances that the Americans will go to war in the event of military defeat is reckless, to say the least, against the backdrop of a growing political crisis in the US that will drag on for at least a year. And who is telling us this? Austin, who for health reasons is hardly more capable than Biden. In other words, we don't even know who will make such decisions in the highly opaque current American political top, but it's certainly not Biden or Austin. That's why Macron's game of raising the stakes in the war in Eastern Europe is dangerous, and for the EU itself there can be no certainty of American support.

    Pashinyan and the new front against Russia

    That doesn't stop Macron from opening another front against Moscow: Armenia's bridgehead. The effects of the recent contacts between the Armenian and French leaders have continued to manifest themselves in the South Caucasus this week. On Thursday, the speaker of the Armenian parliament, Alain Simonyan, declared his country's readiness to deepen relations with and join the EU. He also complained that Armenia was being forced to join the union state of Belarus and Russia, demanded the removal of Russian border guards - albeit only from Yerevan airport - and hinted at the possibility of discussing the withdrawal of the Russian military base from Armenia.

    Translated from political language, this means: "Help us, and if you are not interested in us, then do it just to spite Putin". Such sophisticated techniques are necessary because there are doubts about Paris' willingness to invest seriously in Armenia. This is evident not only in Macron's persistent attempts to shift the costs of arming the Armenian army to the so-called EU Peace Fund. It can also be seen in the grand, beautiful and cheap reception given to Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan when he visited France on February 21-22. In the presence of Macron and Pashinyan, Misak Manushian, an ethnic Armenian hero of the resistance movement against the Nazi occupation, and his wife were reburied in France's national necropolis. The ceremony looked like a dubious manipulation of the remains of a man who could no longer respond to the manipulators. Manushian was a communist and would hardly have found a common language with the supporters of the Nazi collaborator and racist Nzhdeh in the modern Armenian state, or with Dashnak activists in the Armenian diaspora in France.

    But what else has Pashinyan received? We should not exaggerate the real willingness of Paris to invest in strengthening the position of the Armenian state. Certain agreements and promises were made, of course. In particular, on Tuesday the newspaper "Haykakan Zhamanak", citing anonymous French sources, reported on an agreement signed between the intelligence services of France and Armenia on the exchange of information on Azerbaijan, Russia, Iran and Türkiye, with the French promising Yerevan satellite images of the operational situation on Armenia's borders. "Haykakan Zhamanak" was once founded by Pashinyan himself, so the report sounded weighty, but the article was soon deleted and the opposition in parliament lashed out at Pashinyan's team for revealing secrets.

    To put it bluntly, the concrete results of the Armenian leader's visit to Paris so far look very modest: the "memorandum of understanding" and rumours of an "agreement" are only simulacra of real assistance. Serious results are usually different. They are openly signed agreements and contracts, but their details are not made public.

    In any case, after his talks with Macron, Pashinyan perked up and, before leaving Paris, in an interview with a French TV channel, first accused Azerbaijan of territorial claims, then announced the "freezing" of participation in the CSTO and made ambiguous comments on the issue of maintaining the Russian military presence in the country. Some Armenian publications even began to speculate about the imminent withdrawal of Russian border guards (but only from Yerevan airport, otherwise who would guard the border?)

    Pashinyan made his loud statements "on the spur of the moment" after talks with his French counterparts, making outbursts against both Baku and Moscow. After all, a few days earlier he had met Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Germany and described the talks as "constructive". As far as Russia is concerned, this is evident from the following: immediately after Pashinyan's loud statements, it became clear that the Armenian side has not taken any real steps regarding its membership in the CSTO, although Yerevan is boycotting the organisation's events. In short, the outlines of the Macron-Pashinyan deal are as follows: the former got an ally ready to pull chestnuts out of the fire in the war with the Russian Federation, and the latter was able to create and feed to the West a cocktail of accusations against Azerbaijan and hints of a break with the Russian Federation (which are in demand in the West when there have not been enough other good news in the war with the Russian Federation in recent weeks). No wonder that on the wave of such "success" the Armenian side already on February 24 shelled the positions of the Azerbaijani army in the direction of Nakhchivan.

    But both Paris and Yerevan clearly doubt each other's sincerity and material capabilities. And they are afraid of making a miscalculation, because in the South Caucasus, unlike in some other regions of the world, such intrigues can be punished by the regional states. Paris and Yerevan are well aware that one wrong move could easily bring them into conflict with Azerbaijan and Türkiye. Indeed, on the day of Pashinyan's visit to Paris, Turkish security services arrested a French agent.

    In general, Yerevan is hedging its bets. That is why, on the one hand, as we recently noted, Pashinyan has established interesting contacts with Britain (as an alternative to the French vector). On the other hand, despite the recent fiery rhetoric, Pashinyan thought it wise to send his foreign minister, Ararat Mirzoyan, to Berlin on Wednesday and Thursday for talks with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Jeyhun Bayramov.

    In conclusion, it should be noted that some Western politicians and their epigones in Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus are incapable of anything but bluff and intrigue. Probably, the current political models in Western countries have practically ruled out the possibility of pursuing responsible long-term policies in the interests of their constituencies. The result is a dangerous game, as the Paris establishment has demonstrated in recent weeks. And despite the obvious bluffing of the current French leaders and some of their colleagues in the West, their irresponsible play with fire is fraught with the possibility of an escalation of the war in Eastern Europe, with no prospects of restoring the territorial integrity of Ukraine, but with more than obvious prospects of the regional war moving to new and new stages - up to the global one.


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