French far-right leader Marine Le Pen dropped in on Russia’s Vladimir Putin for a chat Friday, in a move that once again stoked the argument over Russian influence in Western politics.
According to her Twitter account, the two “discussed at length the international situation and Islamist terror,” as well as “the fate of eastern Christians, who are threatened every day by Islamist fundamentalists.”
Le Pen, who is currently tipped to win the first round of the French presidential elections at the end of April, is politically closest to Putin out of all the candidates running—with a platform of nationalism, euro-skepticism and a hard line on Islamist terror and immigration that her opponents decry as racist.
However, she had appeared to fall from grace with the Kremlin as the more electable former prime minister Francois Fillon won the nomination of the center-right Republican party. In December, after Fillon’s primary victory, reports surfaced that Russia’s Deposit Insurance Agency had told Le Pen’s Front National to repay a 9 million euro ($10 million) loan it had received from First Czech-Russian Bank (which has since been dissolved).
Fillon, who has been equally outspoken about the need for a rapprochement with Russia, has enjoyed extremely favorable coverage on Russian state TV.
Fillon’s campaign has been fatally weakened by two scandals over money. First, he was put under formal investigation for claiming a public salary for his wife as his assistant while a lawmaker. Then earlier this week, the satirical magazine Le Canard Enchainé reported that Fillon had taken $50,000 from a Lebanese businessman to set up a meeting with Putin during a conference that Fillon attended in Russia in 2015.
In contrast to Fillon, the campaign of the centrist, socially and economically liberal Emmanuel Macron has been strongly criticized, notably on the French-language news site of Sputnik, run by the Russian state. True to form, Sputnik’s top story Friday led with National Front Treasurer Wallerand de Saint-Just saying “[Putin] certainly doesn’t intend to influence the French elections. This is a normal process.”
There was no mention, either from Le Pen, or from the Kremlin, of the prospect of getting more money to finance her party’s election campaign. Le Pen has complained frequently of being refused loans by France’s establishment banks on political grounds.
Without a properly-funded campaign, it’s effectively impossibly for her party to win a majority in legislative elections in June. And without a majority in parliament, Le Pen won’t be able to push through her agenda of withdrawing from the euro and (as current law would require) the EU too.