Macron’s EU army powerplay as president seeks to build bloc ‘battlegroup’

Macron and Putin table meeting mocked by hosts

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NATO defence ministers are looking to further strengthen “deterrence and defence” amid the ongoing dispute between Russia and Ukraine. This could include the formation of new “battlegroups” across Europe.

While the details remain thin, Mr Macron has signalled he wants to be at the forefront of new army plans.

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s Secretary-General, said in a meeting of European leaders numerous options are being considered, “including… establishing new NATO battlegroups in central and south-eastern Europe”, according to NATO Press Officer Rehanna Jones.

France has already offered to lead one such battle group in Romania.

This, Reuters reports, could be made up of around 1,000 troops from various countries, led by Mr Macron.

Mr Stoltenberg said he was pleased with Paris’s offer, noting firm details will follow in the coming weeks.

He, quoted in the Sofia Globe, said: “I welcomed the offer by France to lead such a battlegroup in Romania.

“Our military commanders will now work on the details and report back within weeks.”

In 2018, the French President marked the centenary of the World War One Armistice by calling for the creation of a “true European army”.

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Russia was again a prompter of wider defence systems, but so too was China and the US.

Mr Macron told Europe 1: “We have to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States.

“We will not protect Europeans unless we decide to have a true European army.”

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His latest backing of new “battlegroups” comes amid reports of around 100,000 Russian soldiers massing around Ukraine’s border.

Despite this context, Paris insisted its offer to send troops to Romania, which borders Ukraine, was not intended as an act of provocation against the Kremlin.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, quoted in Reuters, said: “I don’t think one can say this is a provocation, to respond to the commitments we have in the framework of NATO.

“The fundamental subject now is to defuse tensions as quickly as possible and to do that you dissuade and discuss.”

Moscow said in diplomatic talks last month it had “no plans” to invade its neighbouring country.

There has been an almost-daily suggestion that war is “imminent”, but increasingly positive signals are coming from Russia, which recently said diplomatic talks with world leaders must continue and returned some troops to bases away from the Ukrainian border.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who pushed for talks to be continued, earlier this week praised the US for putting forward concrete proposals on reducing military risks, but criticised the EU and NATO for being less cooperative.

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