MS Risk Blog

Analysing if France should deploy French troops into Ukraine and what ramifications it could have on Western and Southern Europe

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French President Emmanuel Macron has repeatedly voiced that he is not opposed to sending French troops to Ukraine. Given the ever-deterioratingrelationship between Russia and the West and the persistent activities of Russian intelligence services meddling in the affairs of countries in Western and Southern Europe, one must ask the question ‘Should France and perhaps other European countries send troops to Ukraine and is it a sensible idea given the increasing amount of Russian backed espionage that has persisted to target the region? This analytical report seeks to explore and answer this pressing question.

Over the duration of May 2024, Emmanuel Macron reinstated his opinion that France could not rule out the possibility of sending troops into Ukraine to train the Ukrainian army. Macron has been adamant that such a decision is needed, stating that “at some point, the Europeans should be ready to stop Russia from moving further forward in Ukraine”. Macron also highlighted that he sincerely hoped that other European countries wouldn’t have to get further directly involved in the conflict by sending troops into Ukraine. However, he said that “if we leave everything as it is in Ukraine, then the right of the strongest will win. And we can’t be safe because it’s happening 1,500 kilometres away… So, our future and our security are at stake in Ukraine”. Dmitry Peskov a spokesperson for the Kremlin responded to Macron’s comments, calling them a “a very dangerous trend”,  and accusing Macron of continuously raising the prospect of “direct involvement on the ground in the conflict around Ukraine”. In a more recent statement in June 2024, Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov highlighted that such a move by France would make any French military instructors sent to Ukraine for the purposes of training the Ukrainian armed forces “Regardless of their status, military officials or mercenaries repent a legitimate target” for Russian armed forces.

Such a prospect has divided Europe, with countries such as Germany and the UK ruling out the possibility of sending troops to Ukraine. Such a move by France may be unwise given that other European countries in Western and Southern Europe are rigidly opposed to the idea. Moreover, if France sent troops to Ukraine, it could have the potential to further escalate tensions between Russia and the West in an already fragile geopolitical climate. A French intervention in the conflict could see Russia employ an ever more aggressive stance towards regions of Western and Southern Europe by conducting more espionage and disinformation operations against the West. Over the duration of May 2024, France and other countries in Western and Southern Europe saw the familiar and continued trend of Russian espionage backed operations targeting a variety of targets and regions respectively. For example, France summoned its Russian ambassador citing that French “diplomatic channels are once again being abused to manipulate information” by Russia, with the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs commenting that Russia is continuing to pursue “itsaggressive manoeuvres aimed at destabilizing European countries, notably through cyberattacks and hybrid actions”.

Across in Germany, towards the end of the month, a German military officer, identified as Thomas H, 54, was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for spying for Russia. He was originally arrested in Koblenz, Germany in August 2023 and was accused of sharing photographs of munitions training systems and aircraft technology with Russian Intelligence Services. He “approached the Russian embassy in Berlin and the consulate in Bonn unprompted” and “almost persistently offered himself to Russia” because he was concerned about the risk of nuclear war that is being driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  Whist he did not reveal any classified information, it is important to note that he “had been influenced by a stream of pro-Russian propaganda and disinformation that he had been consuming on TikTok and Telegram”. This shows that Russian disinformation can weave itself into any western government organization, spending misinformation and swaying some people to engage in illegal acts that have the ability to compromise the security of Western and Southern Europe. If France or any other European country for that matter chose to further escalate the conflict by directly deploying troops to Ukraine, then we are almost certain to see a spike in continued Russian espionage backed operations and disinformation campaigns against the West. This would not only further endanger the security of the region, but could also simultaneously prolong the Russio-Ukraine war as France’s intervention could also be spun by the Kremlin as another justification for the continuation of its war in Ukraine, further adding to and bolstering the Kremlin’s propaganda system.

Given the repeated and consistent Russian espionage operations and disinformation campaigns, it would be unwise for France to send in troops to Ukraine. However, whilst it may be unwise decision, necessity is something that France must consider for its decision to deploy troops to Ukraine. On 30 May, 2024, diplomatic sources revealed that “France would initially send a limited number of personnel to assess the modalities of a mission before dispatching several hundred trainers…Training would centre around… keeping equipment operational and technical expertise for warplanes to be provided by the West”. France may deem this a necessary move for the purposes of supporting Ukraine’s and by proxy  France’s own security, however, France and the regions within Western and Southern Europe  should expect to face more aggressive Russian backed espionage and disinformation operations both now and in the near future as a result of France’s actions to send a small amount of French military personnel to Ukraine. France’s decision has certainly divided Europe however, sometimes necessity outweighs other options.