How to Explain the Yo-Yos of French Diplomacy?

The 80th anniversary of the D-Day landing will bring together 25 heads of state, kings and queens, representatives of allied or enemy countries, who will pay tribute to the more than 150,000 soldiers who landed on June 6, 1944, on the beaches of Normandy. In total, 4,500 people have been invited for this highlight of the ceremonies, including 200 veterans, mainly Americans, British, and Canadians.

President Zelensky will be among the Western leaders who share the same vision of democracy and freedom: Joe Biden and Prince Albert of Monaco, the King of Belgium, the King of the Netherlands, the King of Norway, the King of Denmark, Olaf Scholz, Justin Trudeau, Charles Michel, Sergio Mattarella, Prince William, Rishi Sunak, and many others. Ukraine is now clearly part of the European family.

Russia will not be represented. At all. After a contrary announcement, the Élysée Palace finally confirmed that “Russia is not invited because the conditions are not met given the war of aggression it is waging against Ukraine.” Is this change the result of pressure from the Allies, widespread public indignation, as evidenced by the interest in the op-ed by a group of intellectuals in Le Monde, or the Russian decision not to go anyway? We will never know.

It may be time to recall that the official Soviet and then Russian attitude toward the D-Day landing has always been condescending. On the one hand, historians and propagandists emphasize that the opening of the second front was too late, and on the other, they downplay the grandiose nature of the operation by focusing on the Allies’ mistakes and the Germans’ lack of preparation, as if the landing cast a shadow on the heroism of the Red Army. And there is always a regret: the landing prevented the occupation of Western Europe by the Soviets.

Here is what a military magazine published on the subject in 2012: “Let’s think about what would have happened if Western Allies had once again delayed and had not launched an amphibious assault in 1944. It is obvious that Germany would have been defeated, but the Red Army would have ended the war not in Berlin and on the Oder, but in Paris and on the banks of the Loire. It is clear that power in France would have gone not to General de Gaulle, who arrived with the Allies, but to someone from the Comintern. Similar personalities would have been found for Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, and all other countries, large and small, in Western Europe (as they were for the countries of Eastern Europe). Naturally, Germany would not have been divided into four occupation zones; a single German state would thus have been created, not in the 1990s, but in the 1940s, and it would have been called not the FRG, but the GDR. NATO would have had no place in this hypothetical world, but the Warsaw Pact would have united all of Europe.”

For the Soviets and the Russians, this is a recurring dream. Did Gorbachev and Mitterrand not dream together of a “common European home” where the USSR would have found its place, even as the Soviet edifice had already started to crumble?

Putin at the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the landing, June 6, 2014 //

But let’s return to current events. Where did the idea come from to invite Russia, which did not participate in the landing and does not share the values that are the very foundations of our societies? How did the Élysée Palace plan to reconcile a Russian presence alongside the president of the attacked country and his Western allies? This is where we need to talk about the “yo-yo.” We remember how President Macron tried, for years, to create a dialogue with his Russian counterpart. The splendor of Versailles in 2017, intimate and family atmosphere at Fort de Brégançon (the official retreat of the President of the French Republic since 1968) in 2019, lightning visits to Moscow to try to prevent the war until the eve of its outbreak, in 2022. In his attempts to “reason” with Putin, to explain his mistakes, Macron relied on a sort of credo of French diplomacy: “We must talk with Russia,” “We must not humiliate Russia,” “We must take into account Russia’s legitimate security interests,” and “Russia will always be our neighbor.”

This pro-Russian leaning is well represented among some of our diplomats. This is evidenced by the discussions on French TV channel LCI panels where former diplomats such as Jean de Gliniasty, Gérard Araud, and Eugène Berg, to name a few, not to mention former Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine, systematically adopt the aforementioned perspective. There is an idea that I have often heard from some of our diplomats or political scientists who still dream of past grandeur: France has an interest in maintaining a certain neutrality, not going too far, so that, when the time comes, it can take on the negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, or even between Russia and the EU. In short, we must anticipate a return to normalcy after the war to find ourselves in the right places at the right time.

In the end Russia may be represented neither at D-Day ceremonies nor at Liberation ceremonies, but the French ambassador to Moscow, Pierre Lévy, did indeed attend the inauguration of the fifth term of the Russian president on May 7, while almost all other ambassadors from Western countries boycotted the ceremony, as requested by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell.

The problem with French diplomacy is that it always has difficulty adapting to new realities, to the new Europe where the tone is set by countries that know Russia well and above all do not want it to win in Ukraine and impose a pax russica on Europe: the Baltic States, Poland, Scandinavian countries, and Great Britain. Within this group, France, a country with nuclear weapons, could play an important role. But it must understand that going it alone to avoid alienating Russia serves no purpose. Obsessed with Ukraine, Putin is not capable of hearing reasonable voices. In China, they have just created an AI chatbot trained on the political philosophy of Chinese President Xi Jinping and a mass of official documents provided by the administration. The Russians do not need such an artifice: Vladimir Putin embodies the collective brain of the KGB-FSB and acts accordingly.

Comforted by his backward-looking and messianic entourage, Putin is incapable of distinguishing reality from his chimerical projects. Europe and the West must remain firm and united in their support for Ukraine and in their opposition to Putin’s imperial ambitions. We need a clear and coherent policy. And for that, we must certainly not play yo-yo.

Born in Moscow, she has been living in France since 1984. After 25 years of working at RFI, she now devotes herself to writing. Her latest works include: Le Régiment immortel. La Guerre sacrée de Poutine, Premier Parallèle 2019; Traverser Tchernobyl Premier Parallèle, 2016.

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