By John Irish
BRUSSELS – President Emmanuel Macron brought a map to NATO on Thursday to show just how much his troops were doing to support the security of his allies and explain how France could be counted on to show solidarity.
Riding high in polls just three weeks before a presidential election, the French candidate-president, has been able to put aside the nitty gritty of French political campaigning to focus almost solely on the war in Ukraine and its impact on the global economy.
Macron, who has spared no effort to mediate between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, entered the presidential election race just a month before the first round on April 10 and has kept the number of campaign events to a minimum.
He has faced a little criticism in recent days with some voters saying he was focusing too much on Ukraine and not enough on France.
But on Thursday with the global attention on an unprecedented summit of transatlantic alliance NATO, G7 rich nations and European leaders to address the continent’s biggest military crisis since the 1990s Balkans wars, Macron was keen to underscore his commander-in-chief status and said France would adapt to the new strategic stakes.
It is rare for leaders to bring props to demonstrate what they are doing, but like a professor giving a lecture, Macron turned to a map in a digital slideshow, gesturing with his hand.
“From the north to the south of the eastern NATO flank, the map that’s here enables you to see all our current commitments,” he said, breaking down France’s military activity from drills in Norway to its new presence in Romania, and aerial policing missions in Estonia to the aircraft carrier launching monitoring missions from the eastern Mediterranean.
Macron wanted to send a message. He would not be rash. Asked by reporters about fears of future Russian chemical weapons use in Ukraine, he remained prudent.
He would not set red lines that could not be backed up with action as had been the case when he ordered air strikes on Syrian targets in 2018 after a suspected chemical attack.
France’s word depended on it, he said.
On delivering weapons to Ukraine, his responsibility, he said was not to deliver tanks and warplanes that would lead to war with Russia, but to continue NATO’s existing military support that did not aim to “wage war,” but bring a ceasefire and a negotiation.
Macron hob knobbed with leaders. Handshakes, smiles and a warm exchange with Italy’s Mario Draghi as Britain’s Boris Johnson looked on by himself as they prepared for a NATO family photo.
He leaned over resting his hand on Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan’s shoulder as the two chatted jovially – something unthinkable just a year ago when the two leaders were trading barbs almost on a daily basis.
When asked by a Romanian reporter about France’s presence in his country, Macron smiled, asking for the map to be brought out again.