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Opposition Blasts Macron for Risking Escalation in Ukraine

Attacked at home and abroad for his statement last month that sending troops to Ukraine “should not be ruled out,” President Emmanuel Macron faced a torrent of outrage from the left and right on Thursday when he met with leaders of major political parties to hammer home his new position.

Mr. Macron’s remark startled his NATO allies and broke a taboo by threatening a direct confrontation with Russia, which they hoped to avoid. But it also caught the public and political parties by surprise and has since provoked intense debate in France.

With the meeting Thursday, Mr. Macron hoped to find some unity on bolstering support for Ukraine or, short of that, to expose opponents who in his view remain too weak-kneed or servile to Moscow. He told the party leaders that “Faced by an enemy that imposes no limit on itself, we cannot allow ourselves to impose our own.”

But the criticism of the president after the three-hour meeting was withering and uniform. Jordan Bardella, 28, the president of the far-right National Rally party of Marine Le Pen, said Mr. Macron was ready to support Ukraine with “no limit” and “no red line,” an approach he characterized as “irresponsible and extremely dangerous for peace in the world.”

Others, too, remained unpersuaded by the president’s arguments. Fabien Roussel, the secretary of the Communist Party, said Mr. Macron had used a map to illustrate possible advances of ascendant Russian troops toward the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and the southern port of Odessa.

“He said this could lead to an intervention” because “we cannot in any scenario allow them to do this,” Mr. Roussel said. He described the president’s position as “prepared for an escalation” and “dangerous.”

Officials at the Élysée Palace, seat of the presidency, characterized the position of Mr. Macron as being that any Russian hardening of its assault on Ukraine must be met by a proportionate response from the West. There was a consensus among European allies and French political parties that it was necessary to do more, they insisted.

France has said repeatedly that it does not seek a war with Russia.

Marine Tondelier, the leader of the Green party, said Mr. Macron had displayed “amateurism,” accusing him of adopting a worrying stance “designed to show his virility.” Her comment reflected anger among both center-left and center-right parties, as well as at the political extremes.

The position now adopted by Mr. Macron is consistent with his belief that it is essential to convey “strategic ambiguity” to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia so that, more than two years into the war, he is kept guessing as to the West’s military intentions.

Early in the war, and before it, Mr. Macron tried repeatedly to coax Mr. Putin toward reason and a Russian withdrawal from Ukraine, dangling the possibility of the integration of Russia in a new European strategic architecture. The attempt was rebuffed.

“Last year, Mr. Macron told me that Putin had humiliated him,” said Pascal Bruckner, a prominent French author and intellectual. “He said he never believed Putin would lie to him that much. So that is perhaps an element in all this.”

It is now clear that in the run-up to the European Parliament elections in June, Ukraine will be a central issue in France, with Mr. Macron attempting to characterize the extreme right and left as Russian fellow travelers.

Gabriel Attal, Mr. Macron’s newly appointed prime minister, has already taken up the task. “It is reasonable to wonder if Putin’s troops are not already in our country — I am talking about you and your troops, Ms. Le Pen,” he said in the National Assembly last week.

During Thursday’s meeting, Mr. Bardella said, he spoke out against Mr. Attal’s remark. But Mr. Macron has made it clear that he fully supports it, urging his ministers to fight “every inch of the way” against the National Rally in the European election, where the far-right party is leading in polls.

“Don’t allow the nationalists to get their way,” he told a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, adding that “they now represent defeat against Russia.”

The lower and upper house of parliament will vote next week on a security pact signed last month between France and Ukraine. The debate is likely to be heated and focus more on Mr. Macron’s more aggressive position with respect to the war than the agreement itself. The vote is nonbinding, but a defeat for the president would be embarrassing.

Aurelien Breedencontributed reporting.

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