Putin greets Le Pen of France’s far-right wing
Russian President Vladimir Putin made his preferences in the French presidential election clear Friday by hosting far-right candidate Marine Le Pen at the Kremlin, but analysts are skeptical about Russia’s ability to sway the outcome of the vote.
Embracing Le Pen is part of Russia’s efforts to reach out to nationalist and anti-globalist forces to build up its influence in the West and help overcome the strains in relations with the U.S. and the European Union.
Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential vote has emboldened the Kremlin, even though the ongoing U.S. Congressional scrutiny of his campaign ties with Russia has all but dashed Moscow’s hopes for a quick détente. U.S. intelligence agencies have accused Moscow of hacking to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election.
During Friday’s meeting with National Front leader Le Pen, Putin insisted that Russia has no intention of meddling in the French election and only wants to have a dialogue with a variety of politicians. He praised Le Pen, saying she represents part of a “quickly developing spectrum of European political forces.”
Le Pen’s anti-immigration and anti-EU platform appeals to the Kremlin, which has postured as a defender of conservative national values against Western globalization. She also has called for strong security ties with Moscow to jointly combat radical Islamic groups, promised to work to repeal the EU sanctions on Moscow over its 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and pledged to recognize Crimea as part of Russia if she’s elected.
“I long have spoken for Russia and France to restore their cultural, economic and strategic ties, especially now, when we face a serious terror threat,” Le Pen told Putin on Friday. The meeting was a surprise addition to her meeting with Russian lawmakers, which was announced earlier this week.
A Russia-friendly approach to geopolitics runs in the Le Pen family. Jean-Marie Le Pen, the National Front’s co-founder, his daughter Marine and her niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen have all made numerous visits to Moscow over the years.
Le Pen herself has repeatedly visited Russia, and her party borrowed 9 million euros in 2014 from the small First Czech Russian Bank, but the bank’s license was later revoked.
Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the prospect that Russian banks could offer Le Pen more loans to help fund her campaign.
Polls show Le Pen as the likely winner of the first round of France’s presidential vote on April 23, but indicate that she would lose presidential runoff on May 7 to centrist independent candidate Emmanuel Macron.
Once considered the front-runner in the French race, conservative candidate Francois Fillon has fallen behind Le Pen and Macron after facing preliminary charges in a probe of taxpayer-funded jobs his wife and children received but allegedly never performed.
Over the years, Putin has frequently met with Fillon, the French prime minister from 2007 to 2012. An unconfirmed report this week said Fillon was paid $54,000 to arrange a meeting between Putin and a Lebanese magnate, a claim rejected by the Kremlin as “fake news.” Fillon also called it a “shameful lie.”
Russian state-controlled television stations and other media have offered extensive, friendly coverage of Le Pen and Fillon while casting Macron in a more negative light, presenting him as a puppet of outgoing Socialist President Francois Hollande.
Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen in the Kremlin in Moscow on Friday. Le Pen has made multiple visits to Russia.