Emmanuel Macron is Kinda Sorta Right about Russia
Some thoughts on talking to Russia about a new security architecture.
There is a long and distinguished tradition of French leaders conducting French foreign policy based on the premise that the more commentators talk about France, the better. Emmanuel Macron is no exception. During his moderately successful state visit to the United States, the French president diverged slightly from President Biden on his willingness to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Macron followed this up with an interview with French TV station TF1 recorded in DC stressing (as he did in June) the need for continued dialogue with Russia and Putin. According to Reuters:
The West should consider how to address Russia's need for security guarantees if President Vladimir Putin agrees to negotiations about ending the war in Ukraine, French President Emmanuel Macron said in remarks broadcast on Saturday….
"This means that one of the essential points we must address - as President Putin has always said - is the fear that NATO comes right up to its doors, and the deployment of weapons that could threaten Russia," Macron said.
"That topic will be part of the topics for peace, so we need to prepare what we are ready to do, how we protect our allies and member states, and how to give guarantees to Russia the day it returns to the negotiating table," Macron said.
Naturally, this got the Russian press pretty excited. It is worth realizing a few things, however . The first is that Macron is a bit flighty on foreign policy — or as the New York Times’ Roger Cohen put it, “forever testing new ideas and changing tack.” Cohen elaborated, “One minute he insists that Russia must one day become part of Europe’s ‘strategic architecture,’ the next he dwells on the unacceptable, ‘imperial’ aggression of President Vladimir V. Putin, which must never be allowed to stand. One minute he declares NATO ‘brain dead,’ as he did in 2019, the next he hails the inviolable strength of the alliance.” In other words, if you don’t like something Macron says, wait five minutes and see if he says the opposite.
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The second thing is that it’s far from clear whether any negotiations with Russia about a security architecture would ever pan out. The track record of the past 15 years is not encouraging in this regard
The third thing is that Russia is in a much weaker bargaining position than it was a year ago at this time. Russia has seized bits and pieces of Ukraine, but it has done so at an appalling cost to its military, its economy, and its reputation. Sweden and Finland are on track to join NATO. Russia’s energy leverage over Europe is dissipating. Russia no longer poses an imminent military threat to the rest of Europe. At the same time, Vladimir Putin has made it clear that he will take aggressive, risky, self-defeating gambles. Russia has managed to achieve the worst of both worlds; Europe’s threat perception has increased while Russia’s capabilities have waned.
Russia’s pre-war demands included NATO retrenching its military infrastructure in Europe back to 1997 levels. That was a nonstarter in February and it’s a laughable nonstarter today.
Much as the hard-working staff here at Drezner’s World wants to mock Macron some more, however, there is the inconvenient fact that he might have a point. As noted in this space two months ago, NATO needs to communicate that it does not pose an existential threat to Russia even as the war grinds on.
The reason Russia needs to recognized is that in the long run, Moscow is not going anywhere. International relations scholars have long noted a “phoenix factor” in world politics: even when great powers lose a war decisively, they will recover their relative standing within 15-20 years. Russia has been dealt a severe body blow in Ukraine but the country will neither disintegrate nor disappear as a thorn in global order.
This jibes with Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Michael Kofman’s observations in the current issue of Foreign Affairs: “NATO must consider how best to counter the Russian military that will eventually emerge from this war years from now and invest accordingly. Given Russia’s demonstrable failures in this war, it is unlikely that Moscow will seek to rebuild the same military, with its brittle force structure, weak training, and anemic logistical capacity.”
If, dear readers, you don’t trust academics or analysts, trust the professionals making the exact same point. In an interview with Foreign Policy’s Amy MacKinnon, former chief of the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service Mikk Marran warned, “The Russian armed forces and the leadership are still able to learn from different lessons. And I would say that when the war is over sometime in the future, they will go through a major reform again because they have found that the structure they have built is not working.”
In some ways, now is the opportune time to discuss a new European security architecture with Russia. The country has been badly weakened and is at a low ebb in its global influence; it is worth sussing out just what Moscow is prepared to do in order to exit its state of economic isolation.
This means talking to a state that has expressed zero compunction about violating the laws of war and committing wanton acts of destruction. I get the trepidation. Of course, if Russia, with Europe’s largest army, needs security guarantees, then the country with the second-largest army in Europe would also need significant security guarantees as well. The easy way to test Russia’s seriousness in seeking security in Europe is whether it will be amenable to Ukrainian participation as well with respect to security guarantees.
In principle, Macron is right. Russia will be around for a while. Better to negotiate some sort of security structure now than when Russia is feeling capable of making even more revisionist mischief. In practice, I suspect Vladimir Putin will treat Macron’s entreaties the same way he did in February.
Dan, this is not what Macron says. He apes Mearsheimer & co in the lie that the invasion was provoked by NATO on Russia's doorstep. This cannot be addressed -- what, we're going to kick out Turkey or, soon, Finland? And how come Russia lived with Turkey in NATO despite centuries of fighting the Turks? Any security structure after the war would have to be based on deterrence because Russia isn't going away and is unlikely to get what it wants now. This means Ukraine would never be "demilitarized" as the Russians want. Rather, it will have to build a large defense industry and field a very large citizen army of the Israeli type. Since even this will probably not be enough to withstand a protracted war with Russia, Ukraine would have to be integrated into an alliance with leading Western nations, with USA/UK as minimum, but maybe even Germany too (Scholz hinted at a more active role for Germany in European security). Hence, there will be no "neutrality" as Russia defines it either. This will be true even if the Ukrainians end up conceding some territory in the current war (Crimea, for instance). The idea that Russia is fearful of NATO is just wrong. They hate NATO expansion, that's true. But they also hate EU expansion, and that's not because the EU can invade Russia. Both are caused by the same: they provide an economic pull and a security umbrella to countries along the Russian borders that deny Moscow their desire to dominate them. We had to settle for that dominance in 1945. As a native of one of the countries abandoned to the communists back then, I very much hope we do not do the same today. It would be a monumental mistake.
It was an education learning about 'the Phoenix Effect' but is Russia a good candidate for recovery let alone resurrection? My understanding is that its demographic outlook is bad, bad BAD. The war markedly worsens it. Not only will a large number of soldiers come back dead, wounded or unlikely to be effective fathers from psychological damage, but much, much higher numbers of its best, brightest and most enterprising have got the hell out of there. It's compedative advantage in gas and oil will diminish as the world largely electrifies as renewables grow and outprice fossil fuels. It will struggle big time getting anyone willing to invest the big money in resources for many years. It's made itself a poster boy for sovereign risk. And who's to say the country won't internally fragment when the would-be emprorer of the New Russian Empire dies? Russia's (aging and probably ill maintained) nukes will make it a country that can't be ignored but it's on a fast track to geo-political irrelevance and my guess is that in 20 years (perhaps sooner) no one is going to care much about what it thinks or does. It'll probably be a not particularly important client state of China.