Thursday

29th Feb 2024

Russia on 'irreversible' path to clash with West, France says

Listen to article

Russia's invasion of Ukraine put it on an "irreversible" path toward a clash with the "collective West", France has warned.

"The rupture introduced by the war and the irreversibility of Russian strategic choices make it necessary to anticipate a confrontation with Moscow," the French Secretariat-General for National Defence and Security (SGDSN) said in a Strategic Review published on Wednesday (9 November).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Macron with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Moscow in February - 13 days before Putin invaded Ukraine (Photo: Kremlin.ru)

The rolling clash would take place "over a long period of time, in multiple regions and spaces," it predicted.

Russia's motive was a nakedly "imperialist" pursuit of "power conceived as an opposition to what Russia designates as the 'collective West'," it said.

Russia had already been trying to destabilise Europe for years by non-military means, such as "diplomatic-political subversion" and "information warfare", it added.

But "without having disappeared, this strategy is now coupled with a desire to engage in direct military confrontation, materialised in the war of aggression unleashed against Ukraine," the French threat assessment said.

"The Mediterranean, the Black Sea, the Baltic area, the Balkans, the North Atlantic, but also Africa and the Middle East offer prospects of prolonged confrontation coupled with risks of potentially escalating incidents," it also said.

France normally publishes a Strategic Review every few years, but issued a snap one on top of 2021 due to the Ukraine conflict.

It was signed off by French president Emmanuel Macron, who also warned of heightened tension with Russia in a speech the same day.

The Ukraine invasion had shown "the risk of high-intensity warfare between states" had returned to Europe, Macron said at a military base in Toulon, France.

He added, in the same breath, not to "accept with fatalism" the worst-case scenarios.

The French president is the only Western leader who regularly speaks by phone with Russian president Vladimir Putin in search of a peace deal.

Washington has also urged Kyiv to hold talks with Moscow, amid fears Putin might use a nuclear weapon in Ukraine if he keeps losing on the ground.

But Macron's optimistic personal approach to Putin stood in contrast to the pessimism of the SGDSN, a French state security-policy unit, with some 1,000 staff at its HQ in the historic Hôtel des Invalides in Paris, despite the president's signature on the review's preamble.

The "irreversible" logic of the Strategic Review indicated that any peace deal with the Kremlin would be a temporary ceasefire, prior to further escalation.

If Putin was able to get away with nuclear blackmail in Ukraine, he'd likely do it again in other countries, it warned.

"A successful coercive manoeuvre backed by nuclear weapons would set a dangerous precedent," it said.

The Ukraine conflict "demonstrates the need to maintain a robust and credible nuclear deterrent to prevent a major war" in the Euro-Atlantic area, France, the EU's only nuclear power, also said.

The SGDSN was not too proud to admit that "the United States has once again emerged as the main provider of European security, through the scale of its reassurance and military support to Ukraine".

Macron wants to create an EU rapid-reaction force that can fight in localised conflicts in Europe's neighbourhood without US support in future.

Shrinking hard power

But the French president also formally announced the end of the largest French military operation in Africa on Wednesday, under Russian pressure.

The anti-jihadist Operation Barkhane in Mali, which had 5,500 French soldiers in its heyday, was being wound down in favour of a constellation of smaller forces in neighbouring countries in future, Macron said in Toulon, while standing on a warship.

The jihadist threat to Europe remained formidable, the SGDSN paper noted. "The terrorist threat remains strong in the Sahelo-Saharan band and is spreading towards the Gulf of Guinea," it said.

But Mali, Burkhane's principal host, turned against France and the West following a putsch in 2021 and signed a contract with Russian mercenary group Wagner to fight rebels instead.

Wagner's presence in Africa caused predation of economic resources, human rights atrocities, and political instability, the French review said.

It also mentioned China as a tough competitor to Europe, but said China's objective was to replace the US as the leading superpower in an insidious, but more peaceful strategy than Russia's raw aggression.

China

The French paper didn't discuss the implications of a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan before 2030 — the review's cut-off horizon.

It warned that both Russia and China were a threat to EU efforts to keep the peace in the Western Balkans, however.

"In the short term, the Western Balkans will probably constitute a zone of fragility that these countries may seek to exploit to divide and weaken Europe," France said.

But China's modus operandi in Africa was different to Wagner's brutality, it noted.

China was trying to get "a stranglehold on infrastructure, the economy and debt [of African nations], creating risks of [Chinese] dependence of our [African] partners, but also of espionage and constraint on our operational environment," the SGDSN said.

Opinion

For Ukraine's sake, pass the EU due diligence directive

The EU Commission's 2022 CSDDD proposal did not include provisions incorporating "conflict due diligence", they were added, after the Russian invasion, by the European Parliament and Council into the final directive text — for Ukraine's sake, vote for it.

Latest News

  1. Podcast: Hyperlocal meets supranational
  2. Von der Leyen appeals for 'new EU defence mindset'
  3. EU supply chain law fails, with 14 states failing to back it
  4. Joined-up EU defence procurement on the horizon?
  5. Macron on Western boots in Ukraine: What he really meant
  6. Amazon lobbyists banned from EU Parliament
  7. MEPs adopt new transparency rules for political ads
  8. EU nature restoration law approved after massive backlash

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us