what French military aid?
The French Minister for the Armed Forces, Sébastien Lecornu, was visiting kyiv on Wednesday. The opportunity for Paris to take stock of the country’s military needs “for the weeks to come” but, above all, to reaffirm its support for Ukraine.
It was his first trip to Ukraine since the start of the Russian offensive on February 24, 2022. The French Minister for the Armed Forces, Sébastien Lecornu, was in kyiv on Wednesday December 28. “A highly symbolic visit to, above all, reaffirm that France is in the camp of Ukraine”, analyzes Antoine Fenaux, columnist at France 24.
After laying a wreath in front of the “Wall of Heroes”, a memorial in kyiv dedicated to soldiers killed on the front since 2014, Sébastien Lecornu said he had exchanges on the “tactical and strategic situation” on the ground and on “the needs of the Ukrainian army for the coming weeks”. What “to make proposals for the month of January to redefine an agenda” common on French military support, he explained, during a press conference with his Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksiï Reznikov.
In front of the press, the French minister also mentioned “an innovative fund of 200 million euros”, which will allow Ukraine to buy equipment directly from French industrialists, according to kyiv’s priorities to deal with the Russian army.
But what military equipment has France already provided? Why is it sometimes criticized on the issue? How to evolve its position vis-a-vis Russia? France 24 takes stock.
Caesar cannons, anti-tank missiles, training soldiers…
So far, France has provided 18 155mm Caesar guns along with thousands of shells, according to figures released by the Élysée last October. Produced by French arms manufacturer Nexter, these truck-mounted guns, with a range of 40 km, are highly mobile, making them an important tactical asset. At the same time, Paris also sent around fifteen 155 mm TRF1-treated guns, the predecessors of the Caesars, the less manageable.
>> To read on France 24: With the Ukrainian artillerymen who use Caesar guns supplied by France
In addition to these guns, France also supplied anti-tank missiles, including Milan missiles, suitable against armored vehicles and buildings, and Mistral anti-aircraft missiles.
The French army has also offered armored forward vehicles, transport vehicles, individual equipment such as helmets and bulletproof vests or even ammunition and fuel.
Accused of “not doing enough”
Compared to some neighbors, this list seems relatively short, even though the French army is considered one of the most powerful in Western Europe, with the largest staff and the second largest budget behind the British army.
According to researchers at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, which receives military aid provided to Ukraine by various countries, France only comes in tenth position in December in terms of arms deliveries, although far behind the United States but also the United Kingdom, Poland or Germany.
A place that regularly earns him criticism, especially within the opposition to Emmanuel Macron, judging that France “does not do enough” to help kyiv. “It’s a bad trial. First, because France began to engage with the Ukrainians long before February 24, 2022”, retorts on France 24, Guillaume Lasconjarias, military historian. “But, above all, because when the French announce a list of equipment that they are going to donate, they actually donate it. Some countries, on the other hand, promise great things but delivery is then delayed, or even never does not take place”, he denounces.
This poor position in the ranking is also, according to researchers from the Kiel Institute, in the stocks of available equipment. The reserves, income or dismantled, “globally melted between 2007 and 2016”, notes the think tank. Since the end of the Cold War, and according to economic crises, France has tended to reduce its stocks by getting rid of what it no longer used, in particular to save maintenance costs.
“The stock was considered as something that takes up space, that requires infrastructures, human and financial means, therefore on a privileged person what existed: the active forces, the tools that were employed and employable for the missions at a given moment. T”, explained to RFI Léo Péria-Peigné, one of the authors of the study. “It came at the expense of what could have been saved for a possible high-intensity war – which some saw as barely possible in the medium term.”
Result: where other countries were able to draw on their own long-term stocks to help Ukraine, France had to take from its equipment already in use. With each delivery to Ukraine, it therefore makes its army a little more vulnerable. For example, by offering 18 Caesar guns, it deprived itself of a quarter of its mobile artillery. Same observation on the ammunition side: a parliamentary report recently revealed that “current contracts make it possible to finance 6,000 rounds per year, or even 9,000 rounds at most”, or barely 25 per day. Today, Ukraine fires around 6,000 rounds a day, compared to 25,000 by Russia, according to Guillaume Lasconjarias.
“Anyway, the question is less to know what France is able to offer but to know what will be really useful for kyiv”, insists the military historian. “When we talk about military equipment, it is not only a question of deliveries. Behind it there are also these questions of manpower, maintenance… We must ask ourselves three Ukrainian questions: what are the soldiers need? How much time will be needed for those who are old to these tools? And what maintenance will it be necessary to put in place?
Questions to which Sébastien Lecornu will have tried to find answers in kyiv. “The fight and anti-aircraft defense”, “artillery systems like the French Caesars”, the supply of ammunition and armored vehicles, as well as the fight “against Iranian drones” are currently among the priorities of the army Ukrainian, first listed the Ukrainian Minister of Armies Oleksiï Reznikov. But the two men also raised the issue of repairs to military equipment damaged on the battlefield. “The maintenance of what has already been given to Ukraine is just as important as new equipment,” said Sébastien Lecornu.
A change in doctrine
These statements by Sébastien Lecornu come on top of several promises of new arms deliveries to Ukraine in 2023. On December 20, Emmanuel Macron indicated that he had already delivered rocket launchers and Crotale missile batteries to kyiv. In the process, he also announced the deliveries of armaments in early 2023, mentioning in particular new Caesar guns. He had not, however, advanced on any figure, these weapons being taken from an order initially intended for Denmark. For his part, Sébastien Lecornu, announced in October the training of 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers.
“Through these announcements, France also shows an evolution in its military doctrine in the war in Ukraine”, analyzes, moreover, Antoine Fenaux. “Paris has long maintained a vagueness about its position in the conflict, in particular when it had called for ‘not to humiliate Russia’ or even to ‘negotiate peace with Moscow’ – two statements which had been strongly motivated by kyiv”, he recalls.
Indeed, if France has always openly condemned Russian aggression, it has also long tried to maintain a channel of communication with Vladimir Putin. In the first weeks after the start of the war, it thus assured that it wanted to limit its aid “to defensive equipment and fuel support”. It was only at the end of April, in the middle of the presidential campaign, that Emmanuel Macron announced that he had delivered Caesar missiles and guns to Ukraine.
“Today, with a visit from Sébastien Lecornu, she wants to be clear in which camps she is,” continues the columnist. “Besides, in this, the great conference in support of Ukraine organized with great fanfare in Paris in mid-December also had a strong symbolic significance.” A meeting that will have raised nearly a billion euros in donations.