Le Pen Closer Than Ever to the French Presidency (and to Putin)
As elections approach Sunday, the far-right candidate is linked to the Russian president by a web of financial ties and a history of support that has hardly dimmed despite the war in Ukraine.
When Europe’s far-right leaders gathered in Madrid in January, they had no problem finding unity on the issues they hold dear, whether cracking down on immigrants or upholding “European Christian ideals.” But as Russian troops massed on the Ukrainian border, they were divided on one issue: the threat posed by President Vladimir V. Putin.
Marine Le Pen, the extreme-right challenger for the French presidency, objected to a paragraph in the final statement calling for European solidarity to confront “Russian military actions on the eastern border of Europe.” Even in a gathering of illiberal nationalists, she was an outlier in her fealty to Mr. Putin.
Now, on her campaign website, the leaders’ statement appears with that paragraph cut in an unacknowledged change to the text. This little subterfuge is consistent with an embrace of Mr. Putin so complete that even his ravaging of Ukraine has hardly diminished it.
Over the past decade, Ms. Le Pen’s party, the National Rally, formerly the National Front, has borrowed millions from a Russian bank, and Ms. Le Pen has supported Mr. Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, as well as his incendiary meddling that year in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, where just this week Russia redoubled its offensive.
Julien Nocetti, a Russia expert at the French Institute of International Relations, said there was “a complete ideological alignment between Putin and Le Pen” — one that would be deeply worrying to France’s American and European allies.
The Ukraine war has caused Ms. Le Pen to pivot a little by saying Mr. Putin crossed “a red line” with the invasion, but she still says her foreign-policy priority is a rapprochement with Russia once the fighting stops.
Mediapart, a French investigative news website, was the first to expose the Russian loan to the National Rally in September 2014. In an earlier interview with Mediapart, Mr. Chauprade said visits to the Donbas that year and in 2015 by Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, a former National Rally member of the European Parliament, had been a “quid pro quo” for the loan.
“This is a very obvious and clear case of dependence on Russia,” Mr. Nocetti, the Russia expert, said. “The company holding the loan has an organic link with the Russian government through its military origins.”
Mr. Macron, in an electoral debate on Wednesday with Ms. Le Pen, said, “When you speak to Russia, you speak to your banker.” She insisted that she was “a totally free woman.”
Copyright The New York Times