Zelensky's Paris dash: last minute but crucial for Macron

Zelensky's Paris dash: last minute but crucial for Macron


German Chancellor Olaf Scholz headed from Berlin to Paris specially for the occasion.

PARIS (AFP) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's late evening stop-off in Paris Wednesday, arranged at the last minute, was crucial to French President Emmanuel Macon even if the reception paled into comparison with his pageantry-filled visit to London the same day.

Macron has sought to push back against accusations France has been wary of giving full-throated support to Ukraine in the face of the Russian invasion which began almost a year ago.

Britain, by contrast, is proud of highlighting Kyiv's cause even before the start of the offensive, warning an invasion was imminent.

In London, Zelensky had an audience with King Charles III and was granted the rare honour of addressing parliament as a foreign head of state.

His trip to Paris was far more hurried -- an evening arrival at Paris Orly airport just before 10:00 pm followed by a dinner at the Elysee Palace, wedged into the late hours of the night after Zelensky spent the entire day in London.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz headed from Berlin to Paris specially for the occasion.

Ahead of the talks with both men, Zelensky acknowledged that the event was "spontaneous" in nature. Somewhat symbolically, he arrived at Paris Orly airport on a UK government plane, its tail festooned with the union jack flag.

Initially, it was expected that Zelensky would be in Brussels Wednesday evening ahead of a possible summit with EU leaders Thursday.

Dinner at the Elysee Palace in Paris was arranged at the last minute, a source close to the issue told AFP.

Analysts said Macron clearly had no intention of being upstaged by the British, whose foreign policy clout is seen by many as weaker after Brexit.

If Zelensky had not come to Paris, it "would have been a failure for Emmanuel Macron, a diminishing of his status," said Michel Duclos, a former diplomat and special advisor to the Institut Montaigne think tank.

'A kind of competition'

Zelensky had on occasion shown impatience with Macron, who held frequent telephone talks with President Vladimir Putin even after the invasion and even expressed concern that Russia should not be humiliated in any final settlement.

But Macron has now indicated France wants to support Ukraine until it emerges victorious in the conflict and announced it would send light tanks in a move that prompted Germany to follow suit with battle tanks.

"I believe he has changed," said Zelensky.

"And that he changed for real this time. After all, he (Macron) opened the door to tank deliveries.

"He also supported Ukraine's candidacy for the EU. I believe it was a real signal. We had a lot of conversations with France, Germany and other countries. I believe that confidence is real today," he added.

At the beginning of February, Paris pledged to deliver 12 new Caesar canons, in addition to the 18 already delivered. And it is also not ruling out the transfer of fighter aircraft to Kyiv -- previously a red line.

As for Scholz, generally reluctant to stand alone in support of Ukraine, coming to Paris was also a good compromise.

"It probably helps him but it also shows the extent of his weakening," said Francois Heisbourg of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

"The Ukrainians know very well that the support of the French is essential in relation to European issues," he added.

Whatever reception he is given, Zelensky above all wants heavy weaponry from the Europeans for its armed forces to gain back ground from Russia.

"The Ukrainians naturally set up a kind of competition for the best bidder on arms transfers between the Americans and the Europeans, and between the Europeans themselves," said Duclos.