French President Emmanuel Macron has smashed a major taboo by floating the possibility of sending Western troops to Ukraine, raising the stakes in a showdown with a nuclear-armed Russia.

Hosting a conference of European leaders on Monday night, the French leader refused to rule out the dispatch of Western troops to Ukraine as Russia's invasion stretches into its third year and Kyiv's military campaign appears to be faltering.

"We will do whatever it takes to ensure that Russia cannot win this war," Macron added.

A European military source, who asked not to be named, said that European allies had been studying the plan for several weeks and the United States supported the idea.

While Macron did not provide any details, the French foreign ministry said the idea did not foresee French troops directly fighting against Russian forces in Ukraine.


Speaking to reporters, Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas said on Tuesday: "We are talking about training missions, training components. Training."

When pressed whether it would be limited to instructors only, the minister said that he could not reveal the details because "this is still being discussed between the countries."

Former senior NATO official Camille Grand said Macron's statements were a "major political signal."

"The message is threefold: to the Ukrainians, we are saying that we are prepared to take risks alongside them. To Russia, this war is very important to us," Grand told AFP.

"To the public, the stakes are so high that we can't rule out this possibility."

- 'Poker game' -

Monday's announcement appeared to represent a turnround for Macron, who has for many years sought to position himself as a top mediator between Russia and Ukraine. 

Less than five years ago he hosted Putin at his Mediterranean residence and flew into Moscow in February 2022 in a last-minute bid to halt the dispatch of Russian troops across the border. 


"This undoubtedly represents a verbal escalation," said French military historian Michel Goya.

"But in this arm-wrestling match with Russia, you can't stop at anything, this is a poker game."

Alexander Gabuev, director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, also said Macron's comments represented a toughening of his stance. "But so far we don't know what this means," Gabuev told AFP. 

"Perhaps it's a form of strategic ambiguity to push (Russian President Vladimir) Putin to negotiate on Ukrainian terms," he said.

Gabuev pointed out that a small number of Western troops and volunteers were already on the ground in Ukraine, adding that he could not imagine French society backing the idea of sending a large French contingent to fight there.

A number of countries including Germany, Britain and Spain rushed to say they had no plans to send their soldiers to Ukraine.

The Kremlin on Tuesday grimly warned Europe against even entertaining such an idea, saying that the appearance of NATO troops in Ukraine would make a direct confrontation with Russia not only possible but inevitable.

In his early-morning address on Feb. 24, 2022 Putin bluntly warned the West against intervening in Russia's war against Ukraine, and Western countries have been keen to avoid an escalation.


But observers note that over time many red lines have been crossed over the Ukraine conflict, pointing to supplies of French and British long-range cruise missiles, considered unthinkable two years ago.

Kyiv says that Western military support is not big enough, and two years after resisting the full-scale invasion by its much larger neighbor, Ukraine's troops are outgunned and exhausted.

- 'Ramping up nuclear rhetoric' - 

Some observers pointed out that Macron's announcement would only help reinforce the Kremlin's narrative that Russia is fighting for survival against NATO-backed Kyiv troops in Ukraine.

Fyodor Lukyanov, head of the Kremlin-linked Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, a think tank in Moscow, said Macron's remarks "will surprise few people in Russia."

Since the start of Moscow's invasion, Putin has made thinly veiled threats hinting at a willingness to deploy Russia's tactical nuclear weapons, which Russian military doctrine holds can be used to force an adversary to retreat.

Lukyanov said that the toughening of France's position would provoke the Kremlin to act tougher.

"This will give Russia an impetus to toughen its stance further, ramp up its nuclear rhetoric and increase reliance on nuclear deterrence as a means of response," he told AFP.

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