France could announce sending military trainers to Ukraine soon, diplomats say

FILE PHOTO: French President Macron meets Ukraine's President Zelenskiy in Paris

By John Irish

PARIS (Reuters) - France could soon send military trainers to Ukraine despite the concerns of some allies and criticism by Russia, and may announce its decision next week during a visit by the Ukrainian president, three diplomatic sources said.

The diplomats said Paris hoped to forge and lead a coalition of countries offering such assistance to Kyiv's war effort even though some of its European Union partners fear it could make a direct conflict with Russia more likely.

France would initially send a limited number of personnel to assess the modalities of a mission before dispatching several hundred trainers, two of the diplomats said.

Training would centre around demining, keeping equipment operational and technical expertise for warplanes to be provided by the West, they said. Paris would also finance, arm, and train a Ukrainian motorised brigade.

"The arrangements are very advanced and we could expect something next week," said one of the sources.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is due in France on June 6, the 80th anniversary of D-day, when Allied soldiers landed in Normandy to drive out Nazi German forces during World War Two. He will hold talks with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris the next day.

Ukraine's top commander said on Monday he had signed paperwork allowing French military instructors to visit Ukrainian training centres soon.

Ukraine's Defence Ministry, in a "clarification", said Kyiv had been expressing interest in a project involving receiving foreign instructors since February.

Russian President Vladimir Putin portrayed the presence of regular French military in Ukraine as a step towards global conflict.


France has trained about 10,000 Ukrainian troops since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, but has done so within the EU. The new mission would not be under EU or NATO auspices, the diplomats said.

Speaking after a Franco-German cabinet meeting this week, Macron did not deny the possibility of sending instructors following the Ukrainian comments, saying that he did not comment on "rumours or decisions that could come."

France's defence ministry said training on Ukrainian soil was among subjects that had been discussed since February.

"Like all the projects discussed at that time, this track continues to be the subject of work with the Ukrainians, in particular to understand their exact needs," it said.

Baltic states have in the past indicated they could join France in such a project.

"Lithuania is ready to join a coalition led by France for example which would train soldiers in Ukraine," Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told France's LCI television on May 20.

EU defence ministers on Tuesday debated the idea of training Ukrainian forces in Ukraine but did not reach a common position, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.

(This story has been corrected to fix the spelling of Josep Borrell in paragraph 16)

(Reporting by John Irish, Editing by Timothy Heritage)