“Putin’s nuclear threats are just lies” – L’Express

the West will have to come to terms with Putin

On Wednesday April 24, the United States adopted a colossal aid plan to support Kiev – which had not been done for a year and a half. A decision applauded by many officials, like the head of German diplomacy, Annalena Barbock, who hailed a “day of optimism for the security of Ukraine and Europe”, or Charles Michel , President of the European Council, according to which Washington “sends a clear message to the Kremlin”.

But for American lieutenant-colonel Jahara Matisek, military professor and researcher at the European Resilience Initiative Center, if this decision goes in the right direction, Europeans cannot “continue to count on a country like the United States, whose internal politics is unstable and whose agenda is, obviously, primarily focused on its own interests, to [se] protect”.

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Speaking to L’Express, Jahara Matisek explains why, according to him, it will be necessary to send European troops to Ukraine. Even if it means risking escalation or even pushing Vladimir Putin to press the button? The lieutenant-colonel proposes a strategy which would, according to him, “reassure public opinion, but also lighten the logistical burden on the Ukrainian side, while showing Russia that [les forces européennes] do not seek escalation”. Interview.

L’Express: After months of blockage, the American Congress adopted a colossal aid plan of 61 billion dollars to support kyiv. Is this good news?

Jahara Matisek : In any case, this is going in the right direction. Obviously, while the United States has been procrastinating in recent months, Russian forces have taken the opportunity to intensify their attacks against the Ukrainians. It is a fact: many lives have been lost on the Ukrainian side, due to lack of sufficient means to defend themselves. But you have to look at the positive side. The US aid plan includes long-range (up to 300 km) ATACMS missiles, which will greatly help Ukraine. So I think we have the right to be optimistic for the Ukrainians this year.

That being said, we must not rest on our laurels: of the 61 billion dollars promised by the United States, only a small part will go directly to Ukraine. For example, approximately $23 billion is earmarked for replenishment of the U.S. military stockpile. In total, direct security assistance to Ukraine amounts to approximately $15.8 billion… This contribution from the United States will therefore make it possible to fill the gaps, but it will not last long.

“Europe is going to have to go to war again, whether we like it or not.”

The Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, also affirmed, after his meeting with Donald Trump on March 10, that if the latter were re-elected, he would not “give a cent” to Ukraine. Should we be worried?

Yes, and that’s one of the reasons why I think it’s time for European countries to start playing their part, which is to put their money where their mouth is by sending troops to Ukraine. This war will not end with a few more missile deliveries or a few million artillery shells. This is a long-term conflict that requires a major increase in the defense industrial base across Europe.

The issues are not only material, but also symbolic. This war is taking place in Europe’s backyard: European countries cannot accept that the United States is the only one to give pledges. It is essential that Europe becomes more involved to show Putin that by attacking Ukraine, he has attacked Europe, and therefore crossed a red line. In this sense, the fact that the British have announced that they will increase their defense spending is a good sign. From a strategic point of view, it is the right thing to do. In a way, they make it clear that they are aware that this war concerns them. It’s a fact: Europe is going to have to go to war again, whether we like it or not.

The fact remains that, for the moment, few European leaders have clearly expressed their desire to send troops. And Emmanuel Macron’s statement regarding the sending of Western soldiers to Ukraine, namely that “nothing must be excluded”, sparked strong reactions. Germany and the United States, for example, oppose the sending of troops.

That’s the whole problem ! It is no longer time to play it safe. For the moment, Finland, Poland, to some extent France, the Baltic countries and the British seem inclined to take this direction, but it is not enough. We have to act. And when I say act, I mean open the debate, as Emmanuel Macron did, who was the first to talk about it openly, and rightly so.

READ ALSO: Sylvain Kahn: “On defense Europe, Macron preaches in the desert”

Let’s be clear: I don’t think that France is really considering sending troops in the short term, but we had to break this taboo and above all measure the reactions of the West and Moscow to the possibility of direct involvement. I think it was a clever way of saying to his Western allies and NATO countries “do more, or at least help us to do more.” By adopting such a position, Emmanuel Macron has opened the way for countries that would like to become more involved, but who do not want to be considered the “first” to do so. On the contrary, it was a very strategic move on his part.

Isn’t public opinion in European countries likely to slow down possible direct involvement?

If they are not told the truth – that Russia will not stop at Ukraine and that the only thing that can stop it is a robust military force to deter it – it can. But let’s be realistic: you, the Europeans, cannot continue to rely on a country like the United States, whose internal politics is unstable and whose agenda is, obviously, primarily focused on its own interests, to protect you. In macroeconomics, we talk about choosing between “butter and guns” to designate the place given by a country to its different expenditure items. In terms of GDP, European countries have often opted for the butter, that is to say civil spending rather than that dedicated to defense. Conversely, the United States is betting everything on its army to the detriment of its social protection system. A rebalancing is necessary. Europe’s security is at stake – and it is this difficult conversation that the leaders of Europe’s capitals must have with their citizens.

“The last thing we want to do is put a NATO flag on an intervention on behalf of Ukraine.”

The idea that Russia might not stop at Ukraine’s gates is regularly raised by leaders and the press. Despite this, many polls show continued reluctance to send troops to Ukraine, particularly in France.

If the European Union sent a mission to Ukraine, it would be no more dangerous than those deployed in Somalia, Kosovo or other parts of Africa. However, public opinion is not as concerned about this issue as about Ukraine. The only difference is that Russia has nuclear weapons and has threatened to use them. What public opinion must overcome is this fear that Russia propagates in Western societies – which consists of arousing the fear that it will attack first with nuclear weapons if Western capitals do not comply with its requirements. To do this, we must therefore answer the following questions: What would a direct war with Russia look like? Would it involve nuclear weapons?

And what would you answer?

Special operations forces from several Western countries are already in Ukraine. And Putin still hasn’t pressed the red button. Furthermore, in recent years, Russia has often threatened countries like Romania, Poland, Sweden, or the United Kingdom, without anything happening. Last, but not least: Putin simply cannot afford to open new fronts against other European countries due to lack of human and material resources. Put simply, Putin’s nuclear threats are just lies. Yet we seem to constantly convince ourselves of the probability of this scenario, when we should instead discard it to get Putin to rethink the costs and risks of his war against Ukraine.

However, the threats of escalation in the face of Western aid seem very real. In the event of direct European intervention, would there not still be a significant risk of escalation of the conflict?

European forces could perfectly well carry out a non-combat mission. This would not only reassure public opinion, but also ease the logistical burden on the Ukrainian side, while showing Russia that they are not seeking escalation. In fact, what is already happening on the ground comes very close. Ukrainian vehicles are sent to European countries such as Germany and Poland for repairs. But why not do it locally? This would save everyone time. And even if European troops did more than that, by getting directly involved in the fighting, it could remain on a strictly defensive level – lending a hand to Ukraine west of the Dnieper, for example, which would not would not necessarily involve casualties, but rather the shooting down of air-launched missiles and drones. So, Russia would not accuse Ukraine’s allies of killing its soldiers or pilots!

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Another possibility: European forces could also carry out patrols to secure certain strategic areas and ensure that Ukraine’s borders are well guarded. This would save Ukrainian human resources, safeguard certain hotspots (such as infrastructure essential to the Ukrainian economy) such as nuclear power plants and dams, and reduce the risks of the front expanding along the borders.

You don’t mention NATO… Couldn’t it play a role in this direct involvement that you recommend?

No, because Putin’s propaganda is largely based on the idea of ​​a hidden expansionist agenda on the part of NATO and a policy guided by the United States. So the last thing to do is to put a NATO flag on an intervention on behalf of Ukraine. Moreover, if you consult the organization’s website, it clearly states that it is not involved in this war and that it is only providing non-lethal assistance to Ukraine. Symbolism is essential in times of war: it conditions escalation even before a shot is fired. Sending European troops would reverse Russia’s propaganda narrative.

On April 26, Russia claimed to have struck a train carrying Western weapons. Is this not a sign that Russia is determined not to let the West get further involved in this war?

The attack targeted Western weapons loaded on trains inside Ukraine, which Western capitals anticipated because all of Ukraine can be targeted by Russia. It makes perfect sense for Russia to attack supply lines, just as Ukraine attacked Russian logistics. On the other hand, it is more interesting to note that Russia employed two spies in Germany who were planning sabotage attacks against American and German installations [NDLR : le parquet fédéral allemand a annoncé jeudi 18 avril que deux Russes soupçonnés d’être des espions et d’avoir planifié des actes de sabotages avaient été arrêtés]. Considering that surveys of Western citizens show little interest in sending forces to Ukraine, one has to wonder how the average citizen might react to a Russian sabotage attack against a Western military base or a company producing arms and munitions.