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WWIII Watch: Macron Floats Troops in Ukraine for First Time, Moscow Warns of ‘Inevitable’ War with NATO

Discussion of sending NATO troops into Ukraine itself has suddenly broken into the open for the first time, prompting Russia to warn that “a direct military conflict between NATO and Russia will be inevitable” if Western troops became engaged.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg issued a denial that the alliance was planning to send troops to fight in Ukraine on Tuesday morning, following 24 hours of public discussion among member states on the move, which also triggered a dark threat from Moscow about their response to any such deployment.

The discussion came around an emergency meeting on Ukraine called by French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday, who appears the most publicly supportive of a NATO deployment directly against Russia. President Macron said yesterday that sending Western soldiers to Ukraine “could not be ruled out” and that “we must do whatever we can to obtain our objective”.

TOPSHOT – French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a press conference at the end of the international conference aimed at strengthening Western support for Ukraine, at the Elysée presidential palace in Paris, on February 26, 2024. The meeting at the Elysée Palace will be a chance for participants to “reaffirm their unity as well as their determination to defeat the war of aggression waged by Russia in Ukraine”, the French presidency said. (Photo by GONZALO FUENTES / POOL / AFP) (Photo by GONZALO FUENTES/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Noting there was no consensus in favour of going to war with Russia at the moment, Macron compared that reluctance to all of the many other ‘red lines’ crossed by NATO in the past two years, which had gone from European nations just giving Ukraine “sleeping bags and helmets” in 2022 to donating battle tanks and cruise missiles in 2023 and preparing to hand over advanced jet fighters in 2024.

“Nothing should be excluded. We will do everything that we can to make sure that Russia does not prevail”, Macron said, while expressing his belief Russia was preparing to take more territory not just in Ukraine, but in other countries too, reports The Times.

Presenting conflicting views on the subject are smaller nations like the Czech Republic, for instance, with their Prime Minister Petr Fiala saying on Monday: “[We are] certainly not preparing to send any soldiers to Ukraine, nobody has to worry about that.”

Sweden, not technically a NATO member yet but joining the alliance in the coming days, perhaps even before the end of the week, also put distance between itself and France’s bellicose views. Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said Macron’s views were a matter purely for his country, and France electing to get involved in a foreign war doesn’t force other NATO members to follow, given it is a purely defensive alliance.

Kristersson said: “There are not any requests from Ukraine’s side either for that. That question is not relevant… It is not relevant at all right now. There is no discussion like that ongoing in Sweden. We are participating by sending resources, materials and money to Ukraine and that is appreciated very much.”

The outpouring of views was triggered by a claim by Robert Fico, president of NATO member state Slovakia and perhaps the alliance head of state most in favour of ending the Ukraine war by negotiation, a position unpopular with other states which see it as unacceptably beneficial to Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Fico on Monday spoke of a “restricted” NATO document he had seen which “sends shivers down your spine”.

The paper, he said, implies “that a number of NATO and EU member states are considering sending troops to Ukraine on a bilateral basis.”

Inevitably, the discussion around NATO troops being deployed to Ukraine has elicited a response from Moscow. Seemingly unable to resist threatening enormous retribution, the Kremlin warned of a civilisation-ending nuclear war in response to Western interest in Ukraine. President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday it wasn’t a matter of “probability, but rather the “inevitability” of a massive Russian retaliation against the West if its troops came to Ukraine.

Peskov said Western leaders should “ask themselves whether this corresponds to their interests, and most importantly, to the interests of the citizens of their countries”. Russian state media characterised Peskov’s comments as a warning that a “direct military conflict between NATO and Russia will be inevitable if Western troops are sent to Ukraine”.

Among the claims of a possible NATO deployment to Ukraine, counterclaims by other NATO members, and threats of retribution from Russia, the Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg played his usual role of peacemaker, insisting there are no plans to send troops east. He said on Tuesday morning: “Nato allies are providing unprecedented support to Ukraine. We have done that since 2014 and stepped up after the full-scale invasion. But there are no plans for Nato combat troops on the ground in Ukraine.”

Not long after Stoltenberg’s remarks, Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz backed up the NATO boss, saying that while European states had agreed to do more for Ukraine in terms of weapon and ammunition deliveries, they would not be sending soldiers too. He said on Tuesday afternoon: “One thing is clear: There will be no ground troops from European states or NATO. That’s true.”

Stoltenberg’s remarks recall another interjection he made earlier this year, pouring cold water on weeks of feverish speculation by top NATO military and political figures talking about the inevitability of war with Russia in the medium term. Stoltenberg was questioned in January on the likelihood of “Russian tanks” entering a European capital city, as had been previously discussed by military officers, and said: “We don’t see any direct or imminent threat against any NATO ally.”

The purpose of NATO was to keep the Western alliance strong to deter an attack against a member, he said, and it had succeeded for decades in this mission.

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