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Major European leaders meet to show solidarity with Ukraine

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

With the $60 billion U.S. aid package for Ukraine still blocked in Congress by the Republican far right, it is increasingly up to Europeans to support Ukraine's war effort. The leaders of France, Germany and Poland met in Berlin today to affirm their unity with Ukraine. But there's been disunity of late, sparked by comments from French President Emmanuel Macron, who said that European troops on the ground could not be ruled out. We turn now to NPR's Paris correspondent Eleanor Beardsley to tell us more. Hey, Eleanor.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Rob.

SCHMITZ: So what exactly did Macron say?

BEARDSLEY: Well, in the last couple of weeks, Macron has been calling for Europe to wake up and step up its game when it comes to Ukraine. Just last night he spoke to the French in a prime-time interview, and he did not mince words. He said Europe has to be ready to do whatever it takes to make sure Russia does not win this war. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: So he says if Russia wins, the lives of the French will change. Who thinks for one second that President Vladimir Putin, who respects no limits, would stop there? The security of all of Europe is playing out in Ukraine, he said. And he said if Europe lets Russia win, Europe will have zero credibility. Speaking from Prague last week, Macron urged Europeans not to be cowards. And that's when he also said that ground troops at some point on the ground in Ukraine could not be ruled out, and he has stood by that statement.

SCHMITZ: Wow. So what has been the response in Europe to this?

BEARDSLEY: Well, it provoked a firestorm in France and beyond. You know, Italy and Spain said they are definitely against that. And German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called German soldiers participating in the conflict, quote, "a limit that I, as chancellor, do not want to cross." And he was said to be furious. Of course, the Baltic nations, once part of the Soviet Union, commended Macron on being lucid and forward-looking. But all of this has been playing out publicly for the Kremlin to see, and it's bad for Ukraine and for the image of European unity on Ukraine. And especially a squabble between the EU's biggest players, France and Germany, is not good.

SCHMITZ: Yeah. And so what was said at today's meeting in Berlin? Were they able to resolve or at least paper over some of these differences?

BEARDSLEY: Yes. And it was about doing that. And Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk was there to help smooth things. And they have come out with a common statement saying that they are united and working together to prevent Russia from winning, but they are not seeking direct conflict with Russia. And they announced that French and German arms-makers will soon be producing weapons inside Ukraine. I spoke with a specialist on Franco-German affairs. He said France and Germany do have strategic differences in how they support Ukraine. He said Germany by far is the top provider of financing and weapons, but France has given strategic weapons like the SCALP cruise missiles, which, along with the British Storm Shadow missiles, have allowed Ukraine to clear the Black Sea of the Russian Navy, and they're exporting grain. And he said part of their differences is, quite frankly, geography. Here is Hans Stark with the French Institute on International Relations.

HANS STARK: In Russia, missiles that are now on the ground in Kaliningrad - and they can reach, in some 10 minutes, Berlin. That means that the German capital is much more exposed, again, to Russian threat than, for instance, Paris is.

BEARDSLEY: So basically he said there's...

SCHMITZ: That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Thanks so much, Eleanor.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Rob. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.