Putin Meets Le Pen as Far Right Leader Criticizes Sanctions

  • Putin says not trying to influence French presidential poll
  • Le Pen fighting for top spot in first-round vote on April 23

French Presidential Race Takes an Inflammatory Turn

Russian President Vladimir Putin held an unprecedented meeting with French presidential contender Marine Le Pen at the Kremlin Friday, hours after the National Front leader had urged a joint fight against terrorism and an end to European Union sanctions against his country.

“We’re not trying in any way to influence events but we reserve the right for ourselves to meet with representatives of all political forces of the country, as our partners do, for example in Europe and the U.S.,” Putin said in televised comments of the opening of their meeting, which wasn’t announced in advance.

Vladimir Putin and Marine Le Pen at the Kremlin on March 24.

Photographer: Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP via Getty Images

“This meeting is especially important now that a serious terrorist threat hangs over all of us,” Le Pen said, according to a transcript provided by the Kremlin. At talks with Putin ally, State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, earlier Friday, Le Pen said she’s always opposed EU sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine conflict as “counterproductive.”

The visit by the far right firebrand comes a day after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hailed Le Pen and U.S. President Donald Trump as “realists” and not as representatives of “populist” political views. Le Pen, who’s seen in polls as likely to reach the May 7 run-off for the presidency, is Putin’s most outspoken admirer among the top five French candidates. She openly backs his 2014 annexation of Crimea that along with the covert Russian military intervention in eastern Ukraine prompted the EU to impose punitive measures.

Le Pen’s visit to Moscow was an “excellent opportunity” to meet Putin for the first time, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call. They didn’t discuss financial aid for the National Front, Peskov said.

Campaign Finance

Le Pen is seeking money to help her finance her presidential run and says French banks are refusing to lend her the millions of euros she needs. So far, she has a 6-million-euro loan from Cotelec, according to wealth filings with authorities made public this week. 

Russia’s First Czech-Russian Bank OOO helped Le Pen finance an earlier campaign with a 9-million-euro loan in 2014. In the same year, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen’s political fund Cotelec received another 2-million-euro loan from a Russian-backed fund based in Cyprus, news website Mediapart reported.

Russia appeared to switch its support from Le Pen to Francois Fillon when he emerged as the conservative Republicans’ contender for the French presidency, with Putin telling reporters in November that they had “very good” relations. With support for Fillon sliding ahead of next month’s first-round voting, polls show Le Pen is likely to face and lose to Emmanuel Macron in the run-off, a 39-year-old independent who backs the EU sanctions and accuses the Kremlin of cyberattacks on his campaign.

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