Don’t humiliate Putin? Divisions show in West’s Ukraine support

The EU oil embargo was held up and watered down by protests led by Hungarian strongman Viktor Orban, and NATO’s big moment to showcase its Nordic expansion has been generald by ongoing Turkish objects. But while those issues have been driven by a pair of perennial troublemakers in the West’s midst, the cracks are clearest over arming Ukraine and confronting how the war might end.

This weekend Macron told French newspapers that the West shouldn’t humiliate Putin, but instead allow him an “exit ramp through diplomatic means.”

The anger from Ukraine was swift. To them, Macron’s comments were a capitulation offensive, musings about the wisdom of humiliating an aggressor when their people are being slaughtered.

“Calls to avoid humiliation of Russia can only humiliate France and every other country that would call for it,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted.

NBC News has reached out by email to Macron’s office for comment.

In Italy, the government is split over sending more weapons. One opponent is Matteo Salvini, leader of the right-wing League party, who once signed a cooperation deal with Putin’s party and posed wearing a Putin T-shirt in Red Square.

Germany, meanwhile, announced last week that it will supply Ukraine with state-of-the-art anti-aircraft and radar systems. But, after years of criticism for Berlin’s willingness to cultivate economic ties with Putin’s Russia, Chancellor Olaf Scholz has also been accused of slow-rolling weapons deliveries and declining to state that “Ukraine must win.”

When asked about this reticence, Scholz has said, “I am not Kaiser Wilhelm” — a reference to the man who led Germany into World War I. Berlin has also always leaned pacifist as a reaction to its Nazi past.

Scholz is adamant he cannot understand this criticism, telling German broadcaster ZDF last month that he was not being too cautious, just trying to “act prudently and with a clear mind.”

History also weighs on Macron. His desire not to humiliate Russia has been interpreted as a reference to the severe penalties imposed on Germany after World War I, which some historians say created the conditions for the rise of the Nazis and World War II.

“Germany, France and Italy are all struggling with the shadows from the past,” said Fabrice Pothier, a French analyst and NATO’s former head of policy planning.

The West now faces a catch 22 over Ukraine, according to Pothier, who is now a consulting senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London think tank. “To defeat Russia in a significant way will mean we have to be much more directly involved,” he said. “But we cannot let Ukraine be defeated, either.”

Most of Eastern Europe has led the way with forthright denouncements of Putin and weapons shipments to Kyiv. For them it’s about survival: Putin could easily turn on them.

The UK and US both recently agreed to provide Ukraine with advanced missile systems.

But some still have seen equivocation within the administration of President Joe Biden, particularly after he stipulated that these weapons should not be used to attack Russian territory — the first such limitation applied to any assistance provided by the West to Kyiv.

Asked about this last week, State Department Spokesman Ned Price said there had been “many eulogies written prematurely” about Western unity and maintained that the alliance was holding.

For some, ensuring Russian soil is not attacked with US arms is a wise move to prevent escalation. For others, it’s a clear sign to Putin that he has unnerved the West.

For some observers in Europe, Washington often gets an easier ride than Paris or Berlin because of the narrative that those countries aren’t doing enough.

Had Biden’s caveat come from those European capitals, “there would have been an outburst,” said Gustav Gressel, a former desk officer at the Austrian Ministry of Defense who is now a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. “If Scholz had said the same thing, it would have rung the alarm bells about appeasement.”

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