Russia Warns Against NATO Ground Intervention in Ukraine

A provocative comment by President Emmanuel Macron of France about the possibility of putting troops from NATO countries in Ukraine has prompted a warning from the Kremlin and hurried efforts by European leaders to distance themselves from the suggestion.

The fractured messaging underscores how Ukraine’s allies are struggling to agree on new ways to help Kyiv as resolve weakens in the United States and Russia advances on the battlefield.

The Kremlin warned Tuesday that a ground intervention by any NATO country would lead to a direct clash between the Western military alliance and Russian forces, fraught with potential dangers, and called the open discussion of such a step as “a very important new element.”

“This is of course not in the interest of these countries,” Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said in comments to reporters.

The warning came a day after Mr. Macron said “nothing should be ruled out” regarding the possibility of a NATO country sending troops to Ukraine, though he said there was no consensus on the matter.

“Anything is possible if it is useful to reach our goal,” Mr. Macron said, speaking after a meeting with European leaders in Paris about future support for Kyiv. Reminding leaders that the West was doing things it didn’t imagine two years ago, like sending sophisticated missiles and tanks, he said the goal was to ensure “Russia cannot win this war.”

Poland, Germany, Sweden, Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic rushed to emphasize they were not considering putting troops on the ground in Ukraine. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg also told The Associated Press the alliance itself had no such plans.

France clarified that Mr. Macron was trying to emphasize how Europe must consider new actions to support Ukraine.

The French foreign minister, Stéphane Séjourné, said new assistance to Ukraine in the areas of mine clearance, cyberdefense and weapons production “could require a presence on Ukrainian territory, without crossing the threshold of fighting.”

“Nothing should be ruled out,” Mr. Séjourné said. “This was and still is the position today of the president of the Republic.”

The back and forth highlighted how NATO, despite becoming more powerful with the approval of Finland and Sweden as new members, has found itself grasping for solutions in Ukraine.

Western nations have a number of options short of inserting ground troops into the conflict zone. Ukraine has asked for more fighter jets, long-range missiles, ammunition and air defenses, as its troops fend off a Russian advance that led Kyiv to retreat from the city of Avdiivka this month.

Acrimonious exchanges between Russia and the West have become commonplace during the two-year war. The Kremlin has often responded to Western actions with provocative threats of confrontation, including regularly reminding its adversaries of its nuclear arsenal. But despite those bellicose warnings, it has refrained from conducting strikes against Ukraine’s Western allies, including sites involved in providing weapons to Ukraine.

The discussion of a possible ground intervention in Ukraine by a NATO member country — seen as unlikely by most analysts — overshadowed more pressing questions about deficits in materiel that Ukraine is experiencing at the front. Europe’s withered defense industry is struggling to make good on existing ammunition pledges, let alone make up for the United States.

The European Union has acknowledged that it will miss its target of providing one million rounds of ammunition to Ukraine by March 1. Mr. Macron said on Monday that “it was probably an unwise commitment,” noting that Europe does not have sufficient stocks or production capacity to meet this target.

“Talking about possible deployments by NATO member countries to Ukraine is a bit of a red herring,” said Andrew S. Weiss, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The really decisive question is what can the Europeans do to compensate for the lack of U.S. military support.”

Mr. Macron on Monday said that he was open to European nations purchasing ammunition for Ukraine from places outside the European Union. The Czech Republic has been pushing for those purchases to help with immediate shortages, as Republicans in Congress hold up the provision of new military aid from the United States.

“The Europeans have had two years now to get their act together and mobilize their industrial base,” Mr. Weiss said. “Everything else is just a bright shiny object to distract from that shortcoming.”

Since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine two years ago, the United States and most of its European allies have categorically ruled out the possibility of a direct intervention by NATO troops in the conflict, warning that such a step could escalate into nuclear war.

President Biden openly said U.S. troops would not be deployed to Ukraine in the weeks before the invasion and he has reiterated that position in the days since. On Tuesday, a White House spokesman, John Kirby, added, “President Biden has been crystal clear since the beginning of this conflict: There would be no U.S troops on the ground in a combat role there.”

The question of a NATO country putting troops on the ground initially received renewed attention on Monday, ahead of the Paris summit, when the Kremlin-friendly prime minister of Slovakia, Robert Fico, said other countries in the NATO alliance were discussing bilateral deals to insert ground forces in Ukraine — a step he said Slovakia would not take.

Mr. Macron made his comments later in the day, calling Moscow’s defeat “indispensable” for European security. He declined to say which nations might consider sending ground troops, arguing that “strategic ambiguity” was necessary to keep Russia guessing.

But the quick denial by his fellow European leaders led to confusion about the unity of the alliance and questions about whether his comments amounted to an empty threat.

“One thing is clear: there will be no ground troops from European states of NATO” in Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz wrote on X, the social platform formerly known as Twitter.

Speaking at a news conference in Prague, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his Czech counterpart, Petr Fialia, also said they were not considering the option. Sweden, which on Monday cleared its last hurdle to becoming a NATO member, also ruled out sending ground troops. So did Spain.

A European military official with knowledge of the Paris talks said that “some Nordic and Baltic countries” had supported the option of sending troops to Ukraine. The official, who did not identify the countries, spoke on condition of anonymity. And Kestutis Budrys, a national security adviser to the Lithuanian president, said his country was considering the deployment of military personnel to train Ukrainian troops, according to local news reports.

The Kremlin spokesman, Mr. Peskov, noted the “rich array of opinions on this topic” within the Western alliance and the lack of a consensus on the matter.

“A whole host of participants in this event in Paris retain a sufficiently sober assessment of the potential dangers of such actions and the potential dangers of direct involvement in a hot conflict — involvement on the battlefield,” Mr. Peskov said.

Still, Mr. Peskov said the fact that a direct intervention of NATO troops on the ground was being discussed “is of course a very important new element” that was noticed by the Kremlin.

David E. Sanger and Erica Green contributed reporting.