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French President Macron discusses sending Western troops to Ukraine to help fight Russia

French President Emmanuel Macron floats sending Western troops to Ukraine, and he is seen here, speaking at a news conference at the end of the conference on Monday. (Provided Photo/Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters via CNN Newsource)

PARIS (CNN) — French President Emmanuel Macron openly discussed the possibility of sending European troops to Ukraine to help Kyiv win the war against Russia, a potential major escalation to the largest ground war Europe has seen since World War II.

Speaking at a news conference after hosting a summit to discuss Ukraine on Monday, Macron told reporters that while he and the other 21 European leaders present did not agree on deploying military personnel, the prospect was discussed openly.

“Nothing should be ruled out,” he said. “We will do anything we can to prevent Russia from winning this war.”

It’s unclear just how many European leaders would be on board with such a plan. Officials from Hungary and Slovakia, two countries whose leaders have been criticized as pro-Russian, said they would not be sending soldiers.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz appeared to throw cold water on the idea. The leader of Europe’s biggest economy said there was a good debate and detailed discussion, but summit participants were “unanimous.”

“What was agreed among ourselves and with each other from the very beginning also applies to the future, namely that there will be no ground troops, no soldiers on Ukrainian soil sent there by European countries or NATO states,” Scholz said.

Macron did, however, announce that a new coalition would be created to supply Ukraine with medium-range and long-range missiles.

“We’re at a critical moment in this conflict that requires us to take the initiative,” Macron said.

With $60 billion worth of American funding for Ukraine held up by Republicans in Congress, the burden has shifted to Europe to help arm Ukraine as it attempts to fend off a resurgent Russian military.

Ukrainian soldiers on the frontlines say they are already running low on ammunition, which has cost them on the battlefield. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told CNN in a recent interview that “millions” could die if Washington fails to supply his country with more aid.

The European Union has already committed more then $150 billion in aid to Ukraine, but sending in troops, would be a drastic step, one that was unthinkable when Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion two years ago.

Macron pointed out that Western democracies have gradually increased their support to levels unthinkable when the war began. He highlighted the example of Germany, which offered helmets and sleeping bags to Kyiv at the outset of the conflict and is now saying more needs to be done to supply the country with missiles and tanks.

“The people that said ‘never ever’ today were the same ones who said never ever planes, never ever long-range missiles, never ever trucks. They said all that two years ago,” he said. “We have to be humble and realize that we (have) always been six to eight months late.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that such a deployment in Ukraine would put the West in conflict with Moscow.

“In this case, we need to talk not about the likelihood, but about the inevitability of a conflict.” Peskov said. “These countries must also assess and be aware of this, asking themselves whether this is in their interests, as well as the interests of the citizens of their countries.”

Kremlin officials have made similar comments in the past. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said last year that the US, the United Kingdom and many others are “waging war” against Russia and are engaged in hostilities against the country by supplying Ukraine with assistance.

A European war

In hosting Monday’s summit and committing to such a strong defense of Ukraine, Macron appears to be attempting once again to assert himself as the symbolic leader of a united Europe, as the continent braces for the possibility of former US President Donald Trump winning a second term.

Given Trump’s antipathy toward NATO and transactional view toward alliances, leaders like Macron have stressed that the burden must fall to Europe to protect itself from any future Russian aggression.

Macron warned at the start of the summit that Russia would likely attack beyond Ukraine in the coming years, threatening Europe’s collective security.

“This is a European war,” Macron said. “It’s our soil and our continent.”

Macron also signaled he was willing to abandon his longstanding opposition to buying arms for Ukraine from outside the EU for Ukraine. The French president had been against purchasing weapons outside the bloc to support an EU initiative known as “strategic autonomy” – bureaucratic jargon for a series of policies aimed at making Europe less reliant on the US – and other international partners in matters of foreign and defense policy.

While Macron’s apparent shift on non-EU weapons acquisition may seem in conflict with Europe’s drive for self-sufficiency, it is more likely a reflection of how badly European arms stockpiles have been hit by the war in Ukraine.

As long as a year ago, officials were warning that supplying Ukraine had left nations desperately short of a wide range of weapons.

The urgent need to do this as soon as possible means that buying exclusively within the EU simply isn’t realistic. Region-wide drops in defense spending following the end of the Cold War led to arms manufacturers reducing their ability to make such weapons, and rebuilding the industry won’t happen overnight. This meant that Europe didn’t only need to “refill its own cupboard, but build a new cupboard and fill that too,” one European official told CNN last week.

Macron’s change of heart, however, doesn’t necessarily mean he is moving on from strategic autonomy. It remains a long-term goal, but rearming Kyiv is a short-term necessity.

It’s also worth noting that there is no precise end point to strategic autonomy and many European officials have shifted on what the exact role of the US should be in European security and to what extent NATO should be the broker in that, rather than the EU.

But by arranging the meeting where this new short-term approach was agreed, Macron can still claim to be leading the charge on bolstering Europe’s new, more assertive and independent foreign policy.

CNN’s Anna Chernova and Vasco Cotovio contributed to this report.