Behind Macron’s Fight to Get Zelensky to Paris – Politico

PARIS — If there was ever a time when European leaders were expected to rise to the occasion and put aside petty differences, it was during Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to European capitals, nearly a year after Russia invaded Ukraine.

And yet predictably, they couldn’t help themselves.

Initially, French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife had other plans for Wednesday. They were going to spend the evening at the theatre.

But as pictures began to emerge from the UK of Zelensky’s triumphant arrival in London, a solemn speech at Westminster Hall and a later meeting with King Charles III, the mood in Paris changed. It was also important to suddenly move Zelensky to the French capital.

According to an Elysee official, the visit was “decided quite spontaneously … on the hoof.” Despite already having meetings in London and Brussels during the two-day trip, Zelensky managed to squeeze in a quick dinner in Paris on Wednesday evening.

But France does not work casually. Within hours, preparations were underway to honor Zelensky at the Invalides Monument in Paris – a memorial to French veterans enshrined in history. But it was canceled at the last minute when it became clear that Zelensky would not be there in time.

Arriving in Paris for dinner at 10pm – late even by continental standards – Zelensky couldn’t help but make a tongue-in-cheek reference to Macron’s “spontaneous idea” to fly to Paris before turning to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and thanking him. to find time”.

Ultimately, Zelensky’s visit to Paris also brought its symbolic moments. Scholz and Macron were able to show their joint support for Ukraine and the French president rewarded his Ukrainian counterpart. Legion of Honor. Macron and Zelensky then flew together to Brussels on Thursday morning on the French presidential plane.

But why did the French president pass on the opportunity to match the pomp and circumstance of London from the start?

According to the same Elysée adviser, Zelensky’s team and the Elysée Palace had been in talks for several weeks about organizing a visit to Paris. But ultimately no specific invitation came from Paris, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Now it appears that Macron was firing a lot more than one leg on the European tour. The French president wanted Zelensky to come to Paris “for a diplomatic initiative” on the anniversary of the attack, a French government adviser said.

But with the prospect of a possible Russian attack marking the start of the invasion on February 24 last year, that idea had to be abandoned. There were also other considerations.

“Zelensky’s visit doesn’t come cheap… The question is why is he being forced to come here?” A senior French official familiar with the preparations said. In other words, Ukrainians may be touched by European honors and ceremonies, but they actually want weapons.

Zelensky showed that during his European tour, fighter jets, tanks and long-range artillery were sought to help Western allies increase arms supplies and retake Russian-held territory. In London, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promised to start training Ukrainian pilots and said “nothing was off the table” in sending fighter jets to Ukraine.

Macron may feel that this is too high a price to pay.

Pauline de Saint Remy, Jason Wills and Elisa Bartholomew contributed reporting.