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Arms deliveries to Ukraine: "The finding is a bit humiliating for France"

Over the rankings of aid to Ukraine, the same observation, surprising: France ranks far from the first contributors, whether for humanitarian, financial and especially military aid.

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Arms deliveries to Ukraine: "The finding is a bit humiliating for France"

Over the rankings of aid to Ukraine, the same observation, surprising: France ranks far from the first contributors, whether for humanitarian, financial and especially military aid. The United States remains at the forefront, often followed by the Baltics and the Poles. For example, in the Ukraine Support Tracker, a tool created by the German Kiel Institute, Paris is in seventh place for financial aid and eleventh for military aid.

Since the start of the war, the weakness of these figures has intrigued French military experts. To get to the bottom of it, François Heisbourg, special adviser to the Foundation for Strategic Research, made the trip to kyiv and to a Polish center where Western weapons supplied to Ukraine transit. He found that only 1.4% of military equipment comes from France...

L'Express: For the past seven months, the rankings on the military aid provided to Ukraine place France very far from the leading contributors. What is it really?

François Heisbourg: I ​​was skeptical of these statistics. As the English formula says, there are three kinds of lies: the lie, the big lie and the statistics. Some of this data counted the promises, others the financial commitments and some were clearly carried out to minimize the role of France. But I had feedback, including from the Ukrainian side, which told me that we weren't doing a lot in the delivery of equipment.

In September, I traveled to Kyiv, passing through the main Western military hub in Poland, the place where the bulk of arms and ammunition for Ukraine has passed since February 27. There, the site manager told me the share of France: exactly 1.4%. Ouch... Because these are real deliveries: shells, guns, tanks... All the impedimentum necessary for waging war and which is actually in the hands of the Ukrainians. Not just promises.

Where does France stand compared to other Western countries?

Paris is in ninth position. The Americans are in the lead with 49% of the deliveries, which is an almost reassuring figure for the Europeans: Europe contributes half of the military aid to Ukraine, a role a little more important than that it is sometimes attributed to him.

I didn't have access to the whole list, but it was clear that the Germans were well ahead of us, at almost 9%. Germany is constantly being scolded for its slow delivery, with its extremely bureaucratic processes and its political problems, but when it comes out, it delivers. And a lot ! A particularly unpleasant fact is that the Italians are right in front of us. Not that Italy is negligible, but it makes a bad impression...

You then went to kyiv, where you notably met President Zelensky. How do the Ukrainians react to this weak French military aid?

In Ukraine, the countries we are talking about are not those with insufficient delivery problems, but those from which Ukrainians expect deliveries. Ukrainians have gone from the box "I complain, I'm not happy and I say it", to the box "we focus our efforts on relations with people who are really likely to help us". Well, France was zapped... That's what shocked me the most.

When you go to Poland or the Baltic countries, everyone speaks ill of the French. It's unpleasant, it's sometimes detestable, and unfortunately they often have good reason to complain, but France exists. In Ukraine, we no longer exist. To use a Macronian word, it's a bit humiliating.

To defend itself, the French government replies that the important thing is quality, not quantity...

Yes, of course, the others are bad as moths and deliver junk... We still have to stop a bit! Ukrainians know very well what they want. They know how to use what they get and if they had reason to complain about the material of Pierre, Paul or Jacques, I think they would say so.

Yes, the Caesar guns are remarkable and France delivered them early, as early as June, at a very difficult time for the Ukrainians, when the Russian Donbass offensive was at its height. Because of their reach and agility, the Caesars really helped the Ukrainians get back on their feet, at a time when they were losing hundreds of soldiers a day.

Now, it is announced the delivery of a dozen additional Caesars to Ukraine, taken from a delivery to Denmark - which means that in reality, it is the Danes who give them to Ukraine. This remains very positive and I understand the pride of our authorities. But the Poles delivered 98 Krabs, which are armored self-propelled guns, a bit different from Caesar, but in the same range. Heavy artillery, very mobile. 98 is not 18. In the Great War - and the war in Ukraine is a great war - you also need mass!

After eight months of war, France weighs about 4% of the European total of arms deliveries, and about 2% of the total Western total. When we weigh 2% of the collective West, to use a Russian expression, it becomes difficult to make speeches on the strategic autonomy of Europeans...

Ukrainian soldiers fire a Caesar cannon at Russian positions in the Donbas region on June 15, 2022.

afp.com/ARIS MESSINIS

Since the beginning of the war, the French authorities have remained very discreet about arms deliveries to Ukraine, suggesting that some are secret. So it was wrong?

The first reason given for not communicating was operational security. A perfectly admissible argument provided it is justified. Saying that armored vehicles have been delivered is not in itself an operational secret: what can be an operational secret is the day, the place or the unit to which it is delivered. This argument was made at the beginning, when we were still at the crossroads of peace and war. The French had chosen discretion, unlike the Americans and the British who announced their deliveries before the war in the hope of deterrence, so that the Russians knew that their operations would be more complicated than they imagined.

Then, the second French discourse, which continues stronger than ever, is to say that others speak and that we do. This argument has not always been well received by our allies and we can understand them... For several months, Emmanuel Macron wanted to do "at the same time": we support Ukraine and, at the same time, we want play a role of "mediation". I take up this word from the president, which seems unlikely to me: you cannot be a mediator when you support one of the two parties. A mediator is someone in between. This probably led us to moderate the deliveries we could make: until the announcement of Caesar's shipment, a few days before the first round of the presidential election, not much had happened from the French side. In June, the French finally realized that their speech had become totally inaudible to half of Europe and they dropped the so-called mediation.

One explanation for this low delivery would be that the French army has few strategic reserves...

That's right, we have little material. But the argument has limits. The British spend about as much as we do on defense and they put about as many soldiers and equipment on the ground in overseas operations. The British are not Germans, if I may say so. They were in Afghanistan until August of last year. The French deliver perhaps a quarter or a fifth of what the British deliver to the Ukraine, whatever the unit of account.

So the argument of the French commitment to the Sahel does not hold, in your opinion?

The British have left Afghanistan, we are dismantling Barkhane. The choice of external operations is not necessarily the same, but to say that we are out of the ordinary is wrong. We have the same type of expenditure, we have the same type of profiles for the action of our armed forces, but we follow very different policies vis-à-vis Ukraine.

A final reason put forward by the French is linked to this question: the risk of new conflicts. One quotes, not without reason, the risk of a war between Turkey and Greece. In fact, Turkey is threatening Greece, and we have a specific defense agreement with Greece. But the result remains that we make trade-offs that are very different from those of our partners, who find themselves in the same situation of relative scarcity.

What does this say about the French army?

This means that we are not spending enough on the French army. Europe and the Mediterranean today are not those of five years ago. Once again, we cannot decently talk about European strategic autonomy if we are not ready to weigh more than 2% of arms deliveries to an ally at war. We can not. Nobody hears us.

The Italians contribute about as much as we do, but they don't talk about European strategic autonomy. The Germans, who do much more than us, accompany our speeches on strategic autonomy and show themselves to be good comrades, but no one turns to Germany to designate them as leaders of European strategic autonomy. This policy is the French. The gap between what we do and what we say becomes unbearable.

Employees inspect an electrical substation destroyed by Russian missiles on the outskirts of Kharkiv in Ukraine, October 4, 2022

afp.com/SERGEY BOBOK

Will France be able to encourage the establishment of a European defence, which will include Ukraine?

When the war ends, on conditions similar to those before the war, Ukraine will be the strongest military power in Europe. They will have the largest, most battle-hardened, in some ways best-equipped army on the continent. Only Poland, France and the United Kingdom will box in roughly the same category.

The “at the same time” policy slowed us down at the start of the war in Ukraine, it handicapped us and puts us in a situation where it will be much more difficult to operate on the subject of European strategic autonomy. France gives voice, but does not lead by example.

How can we further help Ukraine militarily?

The top priority of the Ukrainians is anti-aircraft and anti-missile defence. The Russians were beaten on the battlefield, for the time being anyway, and the Donbass offensive was eventually halted. The most serious problem remains the vulnerability of cities and civilian infrastructure to long-range Russian strikes: the Russians are being beaten on the ground, so they start destroying electricity networks, water networks, city ​​centers... It's not very important militarily, but humanly unbearable. The second of the Ukrainian priorities are precision weapons to fire deep into the enemy system. Next are armored vehicles, then tanks.

Ukrainians have learned more about the military in the space of eight months than we have since the end of the Algerian war. When I see the European Union or the British offering to train Ukrainian soldiers and teach them modern combat techniques... At first it was nice, but it becomes a joke. It would rather be up to the Ukrainians to teach us modern combat techniques!

In terms of aid, the Ukrainians are asking for maintenance centers for their military equipment outside Ukraine. Nothing in the laws of war can prevent us from receiving equipment listed in the Ukrainian order of battle, repairing it at home and returning it to them. So far, to my knowledge, there has been no Western response. The French could take an initiative in this area: Strasbourg is about the same distance from Lviv as Lviv is from Kharkiv. And the roads and railways between Strasbourg and Lviv are not subject to the risks that can be incurred in Ukraine.

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