President Emmanuel Macron may or may not have imagined that his mission to Moscow would head off armed conflict in Ukraine. He will nevertheless have calculated that while his mission was an abject diplomatic failure, it was a modest political success.
The French pro-Macron media (most of it) bigged up the visit as a triumph of French diplomacy and an affirmation of Macron’s global stature. Plus, all the jetting back and forth gave the President an excuse to further delay announcing his candidacy for the presidential election, the first round of which is in just 47 days.
He might have failed to stop Putin’s aggression, but at least he was seen trying. That the deal he claimed with Putin was imaginary wasn’t really important. What mattered was that he was on the international stage, strutting his stuff.
Then again, in terms of its broader semiotics, this particular footnote to Macron’s first term was weirdly revealing.
Putin, who frankly does not look well, sat at one end of a gigantic table, with Macron at the other.
It was a performative act of social distancing consistent with Putin having developed a Howard Hughes-style germaphobia, perhaps associated with his recently pale and sickly appearance.
Macron looked like a not especially welcome guest. The message was plain. Russia doesn’t need France or especially care what Macron thinks about Ukraine. Putin’s body language was of studied indifference, bordering on disdain.
While Macron has been performing the role of peacemaker, trusted intermediary between the White House and Kremlin, the presidential election campaign has carried on without him.
The qualification farce, which makes Putin’s theatrical re-election seem more democratic, continues.
Mélenchon, Le Pen and Zemmour – the first choices of 40 per cent of French voters – have not yet qualified to be on the ballot, whereas Anne Hidalgo, the official socialist party candidate, at 2 per cent support in the polls, has.
Le Pen today announced she is ‘suspending’ her campaign as she seeks additional sponsorships to close the gap. Neither the left-lane Mélenchon nor right-lane Zemmour have followed suit but how is this election legitimate without them?
Macron remains the Schrödinger candidate. He’s running. And he’s not. His campaign is barely concealed. He says he’s too busy to engage in grubby political campaigning. But he’s going to have to declare soon, if not this weekend, perhaps during the week of 28 February.
‘All his energy is devoted to the crisis in Ukraine, which reshuffles the cards. It’s difficult to calmly step into his candidate’s suit when there is a war at the gates of Europe,’ said an adviser, lauding the President’s heroic devotion to duty. But as Macron so obviously fails to check Putin abroad and refuses to campaign at home, many independent French voters might start to wonder if he deserves another five years in power.
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