Macron's speech weakens the West's unity against Putin
Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi, everybody. Happy Monday, and a Quick Take to start off your week. I am Ian Bremmer. And the latest in the Russia war. Over the weekend, French President Emmanuel Macron, calling on NATO, the international community, as we occasionally call it, though a narrower version thereof, not to humiliate Putin and Russia in the war. And furthermore, Macron saying that he is willing to, interested in, wants to, facilitate negotiations after the fighting concludes between the West and Russia. There's a lot going on here.
I consider it a problematic public statement because it implies that the West is not holding together well. And therefore, that if Putin can hang on, that there is more of a divide to take advantage of that there wasn't really in the first two, three months of the fighting since February 24th. I will say that privately, the German government is very much of a piece with the French government in wanting to try to find a way to bring the war to an end as soon as possible. And if that means sort of giving up some negotiating space to Putin and pressuring the Ukrainians to give up some additional territory beyond what was taken before February 24th, then so be it.
But that is absolutely not the American position, the UK position, the Polish position, the Baltic position, the Finnish position, the Swedish position. And perhaps most importantly right now, it's absolutely not the Ukrainian position, and they're of course the ones doing the fighting.
So what exactly is Macron thinking about? Well, first of all, purely power politics. He's looking at what he thinks is likely to be the outcome, and therefore being ahead of others in identifying that space that he thinks the conflict is going to be frozen. He thinks the Russians are de facto going to take more territory than they had before. They'll keep the land bridge, they'll annex a bunch of it and that you have to live with that reality. So why not do it earlier rather than later? That's the first point that Macron is making. Again, that undermines the Ukrainian position. It weakens the West. It makes it more likely that Putin persists rather than not. But if he thinks that's the inevitable outcome, then he's occupying that space before others do. Secondly, he recognizes that the West cannot make Russia into North Korea. That no matter how tough the sanctions are going to be from the United States and Europe, that the Russians will export a large amount of oil, of gas, of food, of fertilizer.
And if the West doesn't want to buy it directly, they'll pay higher prices and effectively buy it indirectly. And so Macron, and this is interesting because France's own economy is less dependent on Russia than most of the other European economies, especially in terms of energy because France powers most of its electricity from nuclear energy, which is not the case for other major European economies. So they don't have the gas and the oil floats that the Germans do, for example, the Poles, the Italians do, but the French certainly are much more willing to go their own way politically and economically.
And again, if that means that they're going to be ahead of where they think the Europeans are mostly going to be in six months' or a year's time, then Macron looks like more of a leader. And then furthermore, it is Macron individually trying to put himself in a leadership role that Scholz has a coalition. The Italian Prime Minister Draghi is gone in short order. And when that happens, it's going to be a very weak government, and probably a procession of very weak governments, Boris Johnson, of course, facing a no confidence vote, literally in several hours of shambolic number of scandals that he's been facing and been driving apart his own Conservative Party.
So if you're in Europe, Macron says, "I get to be the leader. And if I'm the leader and moving us in a role that is in between the United States and Russia, in between long term, the United States and China, that's a stronger position for me to be. And I don't want to be second fiddle in a weaker Europe to the United States." There is absolutely some of that going on as well.
But the problem here is that if I'm Putin, and I recognize that I've made big mistakes in the first couple of months, I recognize that trying to take Kyiv was a horrible idea. My economy is getting crippled as a consequence of that. My military has been devastated by Ukrainians in support of NATO. I wasn't able to make the military gains I wanted. I had to retreat very quickly, including around Kharkiv. And so now I'm stuck basically taking a piece of Donbas. But if I see what the French are saying publicly, the Germans are saying privately, I see the willingness of the Hungarians and some of the east Europeans to push back harder against the tougher level sanctions that are going to hurt their own economies, and I'm starting to see Americans saying, "Why are we spending $40 billion on all this?" I'm thinking, I can hold on. I see Kissinger saying, "Let's negotiate the Russians." If I'm Putin, I'm saying, "If I just am able to take all the Donbas, I've got the land bridge, I declare victory, they can't push me off of that. They probably will have less willingness over time and they're going to start wanting to negotiate. And then I've got the Chinese on my side. And a whole bunch of developing countries are really irritated about how much price of food is costing, and that would get fixed if only we could open up the Black Sea, and that means you need to end the war and the fighting." So Putin, I think, increasingly sees that the time is operating in his favor on Ukraine, specifically on Ukraine.
Now, in terms of where the Russian economy is going, I wouldn't make that argument. 10% contraction of GDP this year. Half of their assets frozen. I don't see that changing anytime soon. And if I look at the level of sanctions against Russia, compare them to sanctions against Iran, sanctions against Venezuela, which frankly were less in total impact on their economy than what we're seeing on Russia right now, over five, over 10 years, that led to a contraction of some 50% in the case of the Venezuelan economy, more like 60% in the case of Iran. So I do think this is really going to cause much more significant, longer-term damage on Russia over time.
And of course, NATO is expanded and there's much more military spend, and all of these other things that the Russians are deeply unhappy about. But for now they're fighting in Ukraine and in focusing on Ukraine first, I think Putin sees that winning the Donbas, if he can take it and then announcing the annexation is increasingly looks like a narrow win for him. And I think that Macron's public statement makes that easier. So that's where we are. I think that I give the West and I give the Biden administration a lot of credit for their ability to create a strong, consolidated policy in the first three months of this war, especially on the back of Afghanistan's withdrawal, which of course was anything but was shambolic. But their ability to continue to do that over the coming three months, six months, I think is actually a serious uphill struggle. And we'll watch it very closely as a consequence.
Anyway, that's a little bit from me. Hope everyone's doing well, and I'll talk to you real soon.For more of Ian Bremmer's weekly analyses, subscribe to his GZERO World newsletter at ianbremmer.bulletin.com