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Marine Le Pen’s Russian Ties: What To Know Before France's Presidential Election

What exactly are French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s past and present positions on Putin and Russia?

Vladimir Putin greets Marine Le Pen for an meeting at the Kremlin

Putin and Marine Le Pen at the Kremlin in 2017

Lisa Berdet

French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has spent five years preparing for a possible rematch against Emmanuel Macron. Her dream, after losing to Macron in a 2017 runoff, was no doubt to hammer away on domestic issues like immigration and economic opportunity against a sitting president criticized for being out of touch with voters.

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But then, the war in Ukraine happened.

Le Pen, who is in striking distance from Macron ahead of Sunday’s election, has been forced to answer questions about her pro-Russia stance that dates back at least a decade.

The leader of the Rassemblement National party insists her views are being mischaracterized by Macron and other critics. But Le Pen also appears to be doubling down on her sympathetic views towards Russia and Vladimir Putin in a country that has largely rallied around the Ukrainian cause and a united Western front against Moscow.

While she proposed an "equidistant" relationship between Moscow and Washington, Le Pen insisted that she has "always defended the interest of France and exclusively the interest of France.”

Still, with Moscow's invasion having global consequences, it's worth asking what exactly are Le Pen’s past and present positions on Putin and Russia?

Her own view on Putin

Le Pen has repeatedly expressed warm support for Russian President Putin in the past. Her party — founded by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, known for his fascist past — had maintained close relations with Russia for more than a decade, including Le Pen father's multiple visits to Moscow to meet government officials.

Back in 2011, Marine Le Pen expressed her admiration for Putin in Russian daily Kommersant, praising “his vision of the world.” She officially met him for the first time on April 24, 2017, where they were photographed shaking hands and smiling, just ahead of the French presidential elections.

Just like Putin, Le Pen is suspicious of globalization.

Their meeting raised suspicions about Russian support for European and U.S. far-right parties, despite Putin’s insistence he did not interfere with foreign elections.

Le Pen appears to admire Putin's authoritarian views, especially on sovereignty and national identity. Just like Putin, Le Pen is suspicious of globalization, which she considers an enemy in terms of security, economy and independence.

Their common hardline nationalistic and anti-immigration policies echo the populist approach of former U.S. President Donald Trump and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

For her 2022 presidential campaign, Le Pen ordered 1.2 million election leaflets featuring one of the 2017 photos with Putin — then requested their destruction following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, French daily Libération reports.

Campaign leaflet featuring Le Pen with Putin

Le Pen featured her meeting with Putin in this campaign leaflet

Suspicious loans

In 2014, as the Front National (the former name of Le Pen’s Rassemblement National party) needed funds to finance her presidential campaign, it secured a loan worth $9 million from the First Czech-Russian Bank (FCBR), a bank linked to the Kremlin. The intermediary to negotiate the terms between the bank and the party was Putin’s adviser, businessman Alexander Babakov.

At the time, Le Pen defended the loan, saying that French banks had refused to lend money to her party because of its fascist past.

When the First Czech-Russian Bank shut down in 2016 and was repurchased by the Aviazapchast company, Le Pen was asked to pay back the loan plus interest. The party’s debts were huge at the time and they didn’t have the financial means for these payments. Today, the party has stabilized its debts but is still repaying this loan in installments — until 2028.

The war in Ukraine

At the start of the Russia-Ukraine war, Le Pen was forced to answer questions about her past support of Putin. She quickly condemned the invasion, saying “Vladimir Putin was wrong, he crossed the line.”

She tried to distance herself from her past ties with the Russian president, claiming he “has changed,” though she “does not regret” her previous positions.

Le Pen says she does not particularly admire Zelensky.

Last week, a woman bearing a heart-shaped sign featuring Putin and Le Pen staged a protest at a Le Pen event, and was quickly tackled and dragged away.

Le Pen did make a point last month of saying she does not particularly admire Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky: “I believe that he behaves just like a head of state and that should not arouse admiration,” she explained on LCI French TV channel. She sparked controversy by vowing not to attend Zelensky's live-streamed speech to the French parliament, but finally was present after being widely criticized.

Le Pen also believes sanctions over Russian gas and oil should be lifted, and has been hesitant to support French arms shipments to Ukraine.

NATO and U.S. relations

Le Pen's foreign policy fundamentally differs from Macron's. The latter advocates strengthening Europe and expanding globalization, while Le Pen said last week that she favors a rapprochement between NATO and Moscow once Russia and Ukraine reach a peace treaty. Her main rationale for moving closer to Moscow is that a post-war alliance would be a strategic way to limit a Russia-China partnership.

She also reaffirmed her desire to pull France out of the Integrated Command of NATO (France already left NATO once in 1966, then rejoined in 2009) and considers U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration “too aggressive” on China.

America “needs enemies in order to unite its allies under its domination” she stated in a press conference. In Le Pen’s eyes, France should be “equidistant” between Russia and the United States.

Still, as strongly as she sticks to her guns on her unconventional foreign policy, Le Pen would prefer that Sunday’s elections be decided on domestic policy. Even as she wins few friends among Ukrainians, Le Pen is betting that she's more popular than Macron with the French.

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