While Putin receives a warm welcome from France’s former allies in Africa, he’s also causing strife in the Hexagone itself.
“Putin is not mad, just ‘radically rational, […] or rationally radical”, said François Hollande, the former French president on Wednesday, alleviating what he referred to as unfounded fears about a nuclear attack from Russia.
On the same day, when asked about sending Ukraine fighter jets, current French president Emmanuel Macron said that “nothing is excluded in principle” in a complete aberration from the standard set by his counterparts Rishi Sunak, Joe Biden, and Olaf Sholtz.
And just the day before, in a symbolic blow to the pro Ukraine sentiment around the Elysée, and a move that only complicates France’s situation further; Pierre De Gaule, the general’s grandson said “The French are paying a heavy price for a war provoked by the United States to turn Europe into a vassal.”
France has always taken a divergent foreign policy from the hegemonic U.S. lead NATO approach and famously left the Organization in 1966. France was also vindicated by history for its refusal to take part or condone the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
In recent years, under Macron’s leadership, France has been working to build a European defensive coalition that could carve its place in the bipolar world of China and the United States in an effort to embolden European autonomy and independence. Macron even visited Russia and called Putin numerous times attempting to unilaterally prevent and mediate the Ukraine war before and after it happened.
Now that “European Army” seems like a far-fetched idea, American Hegemony over Europe is more pronounced than ever, and the centers of power are arguably shifting further eastwards towards staunch pro U.S. anti Russian countries such as Poland.
While France is facing internal and continental disarray, its presence in Africa is equally suffering from Russian influence.
Mali, Burkina Faso, and Ivory Coast have all in one way or another politely or impolitely asked the French troops situated on their land to leave. The French army was there to fight against islamic terrorism but governments in these countries deemed their efforts unsuccessful and routed them in exchange for Russian Wagner troops.
This shift has been backed by a 6 year long propaganda campaign in which Russia accuses France of being a racist, imperialist thief in a series of poorly made cartoons. In one cartoon, France is a rat that’s stealing from the house of a Malian man. Eventually, a Russian Wagner soldier comes in and smashes the rat with a hammer.
Which brings us back to Putin, while France is being humiliated in the Sahel, and struggling internally over what to do in Ukraine, Putin’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov waltzed into Pretoria, had friendly meetings with government officials, and launched joint military exercises.
While Nukes are not going to fall on Paris, Lyon and Marseilles any time soon, the French should still fear Russian encroachment. France is suffering reputational damage and internal political strife that are directly and indirectly caused by Russia. Russia is also betraying France’s neutrality in a post-cold war world and rendering that neutrality untenable. So yes, France should fear Putin and the decisions that Putin will force France to make in the near future.
Hekmat Matthew Aboukhater
*Ce travail a fait l’objet d’une vérification juridique et éditoriale par Zoe Jones et Lucie Guerra*