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Is French President Macron afraid for his life?




Does the French president really think Vladimir Putin wants to attack him? Emmanuel Macron recently called on the French to “not give in to fear.” “The state threat has increased,” a senior intelligence official assures us, referring to Russia. However, this is increasing the president’s restlessness, as the French newslet Marianne reports. 

Russia may be fanning the embers of the protest against the French president, amplifying it first or seizing it later. The intelligence services are targeting possible altercations during presidential trips (projectile launches, pie-in-the-sky operations, slap attempts, etc.), as well as the possibility of the president’s being caught on video. These videos could then go viral on social media.

After the clashes at the Salon de l’Agriculture, the presidential security arrangements, which include bodyguards from the GSPR (the French Presidential Security Group composed of gendarmes and policemen)—the famous ‘bubble’ in the jargon—have been reconfigured for the umpteenth time, according to Marianne’s report. For months now, there have been signs of strong tension between the president and his entourage.

At the Elysée Palace, the staff responsible for the security of the ‘PR,’ as they call it, has gone into red alert mode: “To protect the Head of State more, that is the direction that has been taken,” explains a senior police official. It really is a PR issue. According to various sources, presidential security has actually been strengthened starting in fall 2023.Real threat? Or is the president in paranoid mode? Is he imagining a JFK-style fate? Or, as some analysts who enjoy psychologizing the Macron case explain, is he dreaming of becoming a martyr because he is overcome with arrogance?

Reality or paranoia?

During the 2017 election campaign, the Head of State received several complaints against suspicious individuals, often people with mental disorders, one of whom was later institutionalized. The security system has recently strengthened protective measures in response to increased threats. The president is now escorted by more noticeable and capable bodyguards, and more escort motorcycles are present at public events to provide extra security. In addition, prefects have intensified the presence of security forces such as GIGN, Raid, and BRI around the President. These precautions were adapted to allow the President to travel incognito, especially in Paris.

Sometimes, during some trips, especially abroad, it is no longer unusual for the president to wear a bulletproof vest under his suit. A trip to Ukraine was reportedly canceled in mid-February for security reasons. The episode also gave rise to a video that doctored a France 24 news report and had the presenter say that an “attack” had been “stopped by French intelligence services.” According to an aide at the Elysée Palace, Dmitri Medvedev, who is known for tweeting about Macron that are “characterized by a certain indignation,” posted the video.

This is an understatement: the former Russian president recently described him as a “zoological coward” who should be equipped with “several pairs of pants” for his upcoming trip to Ukraine, because a new presidential trip is indeed planned in the coming weeks. And its organization will put a strain on the security services. Especially since, on March 6, a Russian missile fell 150 meters from the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, while he was visiting the port of Odessa with the Greek prime minister. “The services are concerned about this trip,” our police official said. During this kind of high-risk trip, the security and intelligence services work together, and interception equipment, Awacs transmission aircraft, and even Rafale fighter jets may be used.

The domestic front is more dangerous than the external front

Beyond the international situation, it is the resentment of much of the French population toward the president that worries the men in charge of his security. After the violence that occurred during the Gilets jaunes movement, the services had already significantly reinforced and reorganized the resources at their disposal, such as the possibility of exfiltrating the President from the Elysee Palace by landing a helicopter in the palace gardens.

Brigitte Macron expressed concerns for her personal safety and that of her husband, President Emmanuel Macron, citing fears over possible threats to his safety. These concerns led to heightened security measures: upon their arrival at the Elysée Palace, the president’s security staff was doubled compared to their predecessor, François Hollande. This increase was motivated by Macron’s exposed position and a perceived dislike of him since the beginning of his term. An incident in June 2021, when Macron was slapped during a visit to the Drôme, further highlighted these concerns, although it did not shake the president himself. His direct and sometimes transgressive approach to contact with citizens has strained the bodyguards, contributing to a high turnover rate among security personnel, with some former GSPR members describing the situation as untenable. These events reflect changes in the internal environment and security procedures surrounding the president.

There are tensions between the various components involved in presidential security, partly because there has always been some competition between the Police and the Gendarmerie, both of which are charged with looking after Macron. Added to all this is the fatigue of the Elysée teams after seven years in power: the atmosphere in the palace seems somber, leaks are not uncommon, and staff feel a sense of distrust from the president.

This tension is noticeable on the Russian interference front, particularly in the area of ‘information warfare. “Macron can no longer stand it when the Russians hit us on social media and their storytelling takes over,” confides a senior source in the intelligence community. For months, the President has been reading very carefully all the notes that come out of Viginum (the Foreign Digital Interference Surveillance and Protection Service) or the SGDSN (General Secretariat of Defense and National Security) about the ongoing information war. These are rich and very accurate notes, but they are not enough for him. Over the months, the president has become impatient and is now demanding action. “He is fed up; he wants spectacular things, but they don’t necessarily work in the long run,” says one insider. Obviously, a more humble person would begin to question the correctness of his political stance, especially toward the public, which is always regarded as a nuisance and not, in any case, an expression of the French people’s desire.

What is behind Macron’s change?

After his speech on November 9, 2022, in which he referred to “hybrid threats,” Emmanuel Macron entrusted the Quai d’Orsay, the French foreign ministry, with the onerous task of acting in this area. But in recent weeks, he felt that diplomats did not fully understand the issue.

As a result, earlier this year, during a meeting with Alexis Kohler, the Elysée secretary general, he expressed all his anger and frustration: “Macron is totally frightened of the Russians.” Then, one morning, he went to the intelligence services and asked them to set up a special task force on Russian interference that would work continuously, day and night, and meet daily to produce reports. All useless work is useless when the problem is the popularity of presidential policies and his distance from the people and their needs.

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