Russian Media Monitoring: “Macron and NATO troops to Ukraine”

(February 26th–March 3rd)

Written by Matt Wickham, UCMC/HWAG analyst

This week, Russian propaganda is in a frenzy over the question of whether NATO will deploy troops to Ukraine. This comes after Macron floated the idea earlier this week, a strange shift in tone from the once-do-gooder who was pushing for peace talks with Putin. Soon after, a frenzy among both NATO leaders and Russian propaganda began. The majority of NATO leaders have confirmed that troop deployment to Ukraine is currently not under consideration; NATO will not be a direct party to the war. Moreover, Russian propagandists scrambled to send a wave of panic messages and calls for a nuclear response, while trying to interpret Macron’s suggestion, portraying him as a mere puppet of the US or a leader desperate to reclaim lost influence and…his mind. 

After much debate, Macron later confirmed that this was not just an off-the-cuff suggestion but “weighed, well thought through, and calibrated”. The significance of this statement is that it contradicts the rhetoric pushed over the last two years of war that ​​NATO will not be party to the war. Russia knows that, if it were to happen, it would end all its future imperialist ambitions, and so began the propaganda’s screams for nuclear war.

The Kremlin’s propagandists immediately replied with a mix of both panic and confusion, trying to make sense of what this means for the next phase of war….

Andrey Klintsevich, a Russian military observer and propagandist, views this statement as a test, both for NATO and for Macron himself. He reflects on Macron’s previous stance and explains how, unlike Germany’s Shloz, Macron was wise enough never to rule out potential ‘escalatory’ steps in the war. Klintsevich criticised the Germans for failing to keep to their word (not sending modern weaponry), stating, “The Germans said they would never send tanks, high-accuracy weapons, or planes, but look at what’s happening now…”

Tigran Keosayan, a Russian TV presenter and propagandist, echoes this sentiment, noting that “The Germans initially hesitated to aid Ukraine, offering only helmets at first but later sending Leopards.” His message is one that delivers a stark reality to the Russian people: Russia must accept that when the West issues such statements, a decision has likely already been made, he claims. Keosayan explains that it’s a way for the West to put out feelers, but ultimately, a decision will come in due time. His sentiment echoes his wife’s, Margarita Simonyan’s, comment made months earlier regarding ATACMS and their “inevitable delivery”. Keosayan suggested that what was once deemed impossible will no doubt happen. “It’s now among the options being considered, discussed, and potentially implemented.”

Keosayan describes how the red lines that once existed are no longer considered. The West is no longer afraid of Russia, which he believes is their mistake due to Russia’s nuclear status – “Thank god Russians are so collected about this issue,” he claims, alluding to the fact that otherwise there would have been Nuclear War by now. It’s very nearly impossible for a propagandist to conclude a show without reminding the audience of this. He describes how, while the West may have once feared Russia, that fear has now vanished completely. “They believe Russia is unable to do so [escalate to nuclear]”. 

This rhetoric underscores the gravity of the situation and highlights Russia’s profound apprehension at the mere suggestion of NATO deploying its troops. It’s widely recognized that Putin’s so-called “red lines” are more symbolic than substantive; they’ve never held true. While the West may have initially taken them seriously during the early stages of the war, as Keosayan describes, Putin has actually failed to enforce consequences for their breach (although he is intelligent enough not to name Putin as to blame). Nonetheless, this hasn’t deterred Putin from issuing a fresh warning to the West at the end of February 2024, cautioning of “tragic consequences” should troops be sent to Ukraine, yet again underscoring the panic felt by the highest echelons of the Kremlin.

In her weekly interview with Sputnik, Zakharova hardly comes up for air for breath as she discusses NATO’s potential troop deployment, taking the opportunity to belittle and dehumanise Macron. She attempts to depict Macron as confused, straying from the pack, almost rogue from NATO, and teetering on the edge of irrationality. She claims his remarks have even rattled his media experts and NATO supporters. “But why did he say it? Nobody understands. Even his own partners, friends, and supporters have no idea.”

She tells how a version circulating in Western media is that it was his way to get on the good side of the White House, carrying out a task to show Ukraine is supported, in the absence of the US’s ability to do so. “They constantly feel the need to offer some signs of support for the terrorists, the Kyiv regime,” she remarks. She suggests it was merely a symbolic gesture, a fleeting moment of inspiration for Ukraine, as they must continue to “bolster Ukrainian morale.”

Never missing an opportunity to portray Ukraine as corrupt and military aid to Ukraine as one of the biggest corruption schemes known to man, Zakharova points out, “Money, in most cases, never reaches Ukrainian soldiers on the front lines. We know it gets scooped up on their way to Ukraine. And in some kind of game quickly shared out by Zelensky and his cronies.” She implies that due to this alleged corruption scheme, it’s the real reason Ukraine’s front is struggling – “There is nothing the West can do to save it,” serving as an attempt to calm the Russian audience against the backdrop of NATO soldiers being sent to Ukraine.

“So, given this backdrop, they need a bright, appealing, and powerful statement that will motivate them to seek assistance from others. And Macron’s hope for a NATO rescue mission is the encouragement Ukraine needs from the West to continue [the war]” she concludes.

Zakharova, along with other propagandists, have focused this week on undermining Macron, portraying him as incompetent and clueless. Macron’s comments, particularly his unchanging stance, pose a real unforeseen threat to Russia’s war on Ukraine—one the propagandists did not anticipate. After years of the West being manipulated by the Kremlin’s rhetoric of imaginary red lines and dire consequences for intervention, tip-toeing around the Kremlin, there is now genuine discussion about the possibility of countries sending troops. While consensus remains unclear, the debate has begun, with Canada, Lithuania, and Estonia openly supporting Macron’s move.

The discrepancy between Russian propaganda’s warnings of ‘dire consequences’ if Western/NATO soldiers enter Ukrainian territory and, at the same time, acknowledging that such soldiers are already present—highlights the contradictory nature of the Kremlin and its ability to follow its ‘warnings’ through. They caution against Western military involvement while simultaneously admitting that the West is already involved (by providing weapons) and that their troops are already in Ukraine. But if so, where is the “red line”? Where are the consequences? Moreover, they say that Western personnel are expected to increase (according to propaganda, 1000–5,000 soldiers) throughout the year, yet they dismiss it as acceptable and inconsequential.

This inconsistency, therefore, calls into question the validity of their warnings and the Kremlin’s ability to enforce its proclaimed “red line.” The blurred lines and shifting narratives reveal the desperation of Russian propaganda to maintain control over the narrative surrounding the war. But it actually reveals their weakness. There is currently no “redline”, and if there were, the Kremlin is currently uninterested (or incapable) of acting on it.