Scholz shoots down Macron suggestion that Nato soldiers could join Ukraine war

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Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, has dismissed the prospect of deploying Nato troops to Ukraine in a sharp rebuke of Emmanuel Macron.

The French president said sending combat troops to assist Kyiv “could not be ruled out” as he urged Western leaders to do “everything needed so Russia cannot win the war”.

Mr Macron raised the issue of troops at a meeting of 25 European leaders in Paris on Monday night, as he sought to solidify resolve to support Ukraine.

But Nato allies rejected the idea on Tuesday, causing unwelcome division among Western allies supporting Ukraine.

Mr Scholz, who attended the Paris talks, said the remarks cut through Nato policy made at the beginning of Russia’s invasion.

“What was agreed from the beginning among ourselves and with each other also applies to the future, namely that there will be no soldiers on Ukrainian soil sent there by European states or Nato states,” Mr Scholz said.

He added: “No German soldiers on Ukrainian land and no participation of German soldiers. This explicitly includes preventing an escalation into a war between Nato and Russia.”

Emmanuel Macron welcomes Olaf Scholz as he arrives in Paris on Monday to attend a conference in support of Ukraine
Emmanuel Macron welcomes Olaf Scholz as he arrives in Paris on Monday to attend a conference in support of Ukraine - Christian Liewig/Corbis via Getty Images

British defence sources said the move would trigger a “major escalation”. Russia said it made direct war with the West inevitable.

While Mr Macron’s refusal to rule out troop deployments to Ukraine was met with widespread condemnation, it revealed widening gaps in support between Paris and Berlin.

The French president was seen as attempting to position himself as a lynchpin in Western backing for Kyiv, with the US’s $60 military aid package plagued by delays.

Mr Macron said leaders had agreed to establish a “coalition” that would discuss providing long-range missiles and bombs to Ukraine.

France and Britain last year donated supplies of Scalp-EG and Storm Shadow cruise missiles in a significant escalation of Western support. But Berlin is still refusing to offer its own Taurus missile to Kyiv amid fears it would be seen as escalatory by Moscow.

Despite mounting pressure, Mr Scholz has insisted he could not follow Paris and London because it would involve German soldiers in the conflict.

French sources said Mr Macron’s comments were meant as an attempt to reassure Ukraine, which has become increasingly concerned Europe won’t be able to replace American military aid.

They also sought to downplay the possibility of combat roles for future deployments, such as the involvement of US and UK troops.

At this stage, the discussions on sending troops to Ukraine are less about sending infantry battalions as such “than soldiers to carry out mine clearance missions, health missions such as helping the wounded, and intelligence missions”, said a source close to the matter.

“As always, there is a high option, a low option and a zero option. Everything is being planned, but no decisions have been taken. For the time being, it’s just studies,” said the source. “The aim is to send a strong strategic signal to the Russians to say: ‘Don’t do anything stupid’.”

Stephane Sejourne, the French foreign minister, later said Western countries could deploy troops to Ukraine without breaching any “belligerence threshold”.

British and German soldiers during a Nato exercise in Poland in February
British and German soldiers during a Nato exercise in Poland in February - Liesa Johannssen/Bloomberg

Downing Street said it had no plans to dispatch soldiers to support Kyiv, while the head of Nato also insisted the alliance had not planned to deploy combat troops. Poland and Czech Republic, two of Ukraine’s most ardent backers, also insisted they were not sending troops to Ukraine.

Asked about Mr Macron’s remarks, Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, told reporters that if it came to pass, talks would have to change to the inevitability of a Nato-Russia conflict.

“In that case, we would need to talk not about the probability, but about the inevitability [of a direct conflict],” Mr Peskov said.

While Germany is by far Europe’s leading nation when it comes to overall military donations, pledging €17.7 billion to Kyiv since the start of the war, there are frustrations about the limits of the aid.

Mr Macron this month pledged €3 billion from France as part of a long-term security offer to Ukraine, but maintains its long-range capabilities are integral to Kyiv’s fightback against the Russian invasion.

The French president launched a veiled swipe at Germany, which sent 5,000 helmets instead of weapons to Kyiv as the war broke out, as he urged Western allies to go further in their backing at the meeting in Paris on Monday night.

He argued: “We will do everything needed so Russia cannot win the war.”

“Many of the people who say ‘never, never’ today were the same people who said ‘never, never tanks, never, never planes, never, never long-range missiles, never, never this’ two years ago,” he added.

“I remind you that two years ago, many around this table said: ‘We will offer sleeping bags and helmets’.”

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