Paris keeps reassuring its European partners
that it does not question the fundamentals of the EU's approach to Russia: namely that any
substantial improvement of the relationship depends on tangible progress in the Donbas peace
negotiations. Behind closed doors, however, French officials openly criticize the small-steps
approach embodied in the five principles for not yielding any results, and argue that it needs to be
replaced by a more ambitious policy.
Macron's initiative has elicited vocal reactions from
inside the EU. Critics see it as dangerously soft and compromising on Russia, and question the
premises it is based upon, particularly its reserved attitude to the United States. They also reject
the possibility of finding common ground with Russia because of insurmountable differences over
values, democracy, European security, and many other issues. France's bilateral overtures to Moscow
have triggered concern in East-Central Europe. Macron's vetoing of accession talks with Albania and
North Macedonia at the recent EU summit and his talk about NATO being brain-dead did little to
soothe his skeptics.
After five years of relative unity, the EU is once again divided over
its Russia policy. On one side of the current rift are those who see Russia as a primary security
threat and, therefore, advocate containment. On the other side are those who call for engagement
with Russia because they consider other challenges more important. The picture is further
complicated by the rise of Euroskeptic forces who do not shy away from demonstrating their
sympathies for the political leadership in Moscow. To make matters worse, the Franco-German tandem
has been out of step throughout this year. Macron's leap forward was, among other things, an
expression of impatience with what Paris perceives as Berlin's incessant navel-gazing and lack of
responsiveness across the board. Berlin, on the other hand, views many of the French president's
ideas — as well as his political style — with caution.