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French military instructors in Ukraine would be a 'legitimate target' and may already be active, says Russia

Thibault Spirlet   

French military instructors in Ukraine would be a 'legitimate target' and may already be active, says Russia
  • Russia's foreign minister said French military instructors in Ukraine would be "legitimate targets."
  • Sergey Lavrov said he had reasons to think some were already active in Ukraine.

French military instructors operating in Ukraine would be a "legitimate target" for Russia, Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said on Tuesday.

Lavrov was speaking at a press conference in the Republic of the Congo when he was asked about reports that French instructors would shortly be sent to Ukraine.

"Regardless of whether they are French Army service personnel or just mercenaries, they are an absolutely legitimate target for the Russian Armed Forces," he told reporters, per an official transcript from Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"I have reasons to think that they are already active in Ukraine," he said, without giving specifics.

Lavrov's comments came after French President Emmanuel Macron said he was not ruling anything out, including the deployment of NATO troops to help defend Ukraine.

Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander in chief of Ukraine's armed forces, said in a Telegram post late last month that he had already signed documents allowing French instructors to visit training centers, per a translation by the Kyiv Independent.

Stephen Bryen, a deputy undersecretary for the Department of Defense during the Reagan administration, wrote last month that France had already sent its first troops officially to Ukraine.

But France's Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs pushed back in a post on X, saying France had not sent troops to Ukraine, while calling out disinformation campaigns.

Even so, the prospect of sending troops to Ukraine appears to be gaining traction among NATO members.

The Baltic States said they could send troops to Ukraine if Russia made considerable gains on the battlefield, per Der Spiegel.

And Poland's foreign minister said in March that the presence of NATO forces in Ukraine "is not unthinkable" and that he appreciated Macron for not ruling out the idea.

Ukrainian leaders have asked the US and other NATO allies to assist in training 150,000 recruits closer to the front lines for speedier deployment, The New York Times reported last month.

Last month, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev threatened nuclear attacks on Western capital cities if NATO sends any troops to Ukraine.

He said the "choir of irresponsible bastards from among Western elites calling for sending their troops to the nonexistent country is expanding."

But Estonia's prime minister, Kaja Kallas, a staunch supporter of Ukraine, told the Financial Times that NATO members should not be concerned that sending troops to train Ukrainian soldiers would risk a wider war with Russia.

According to unnamed sources quoted by Le Monde, French authorities are seeking to set up a coalition of countries willing to send military trainers to Ukraine, with a possible announcement coming during the anniversary of the D-Day landings on June 6 and 7.

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