Following Francois Fillon’s defeat in the first round of the French presidential race, Moscow is taking a close look at the two candidates left. Among many Kremlin politicians, Marine Le Pen is the new preferred choice.
With conservative Francois Fillon finishing third in Sunday’s first round vote, the Kremlin lost its favored French presidential candidate. While centrist Emmanuel Macron is now largely seen by Russian politicians and experts as the most likely to win the run-off election on May 7, they suggested that as a president he won’t help to solve France’s political woes.
For the Kremlin, Fillon’s election defeat is not good news. Among France’s four main presidential candidates, he pursued the closest ties with Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. The two politicians have been on friendly terms since they both served as prime ministers between 2007 and 2012.
During that time, Putin and Fillon spent many hours in negotiations, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said last year. “They indeed keep friendly relations,” he added. Speaking of his former colleague, Putin himself described the Republican candidate as a “tough negotiator” and “without any doubt a highly professional and decent person.”
During the election campaign, Fillon demonstrated his friendly leanings toward Moscow, calling the Western sanctions against Russia “totally ineffective.” Speaking of Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, he repeatedly cited the right to “self-determination.”
Macron wary of Russia
In contrast to Fillon, front-runner Emmanuel Macron is the most unfavorable candidate for Moscow. Although intending to maintain dialogue with Russia, the 39-year old politician urged the European Union to take a hard line on any possible interference in the election process in Europe, “Bloomberg” reported in February, citing an unidentified official from his campaign.
The report came a day after Macron’s campaign chief Richard Ferrand accused Russia of carrying out cyberattacks on the campaign’s computer network. He also accused Moscow of using fake news in an effort to discredit Macron ahead of the election.
The former economy minster won almost 24 percent of the vote in the first round on Sunday, closely followed by right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, who garnered 21.3 percent. For Russia, this outcome hardly came as a surprise, with some politicians and political analysts in Moscow suggesting that Le Pen is unlikely to beat Macron in the second round. “It is obvious that the Western world will do anything to prevent Le Pen from gaining the presidential seat,” The State Duma deputy with ruling United Russia party, Sergei Zheleznyak, told reporters on Monday. “They don’t need a president of France, who advocates the independence and sovereignty of his country, preserving national identity and traditional values, who is ready for a dialogue and equal cooperation with other countries and opposes the sanctions policy,” he added, apparently referring to the Western establishment.
During her visit to Moscow in late March when she met Vladimir Putin, Le Pen pointed out that she is “in favor of developing relations with Russia” and called for cooperation with Moscow in the fight against terrorism. In 2014, her party, the National Front, received a 9 million euro ($9.8 million) loan from a Russian bank after French financial institutions denied it a credit.
Clinton and Trump in the French manner
Deputy chairman of Russia’s Communist Party Ivan Melnikov pointed out that Le Pen and the two leading presidential candidates who hadn’t made it to the second round – Francois Fillon and leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon – got roughly 60 percent of the votes in total. “These are the candidates who declared a course for cooperation with Russia. Mr. Macron must consider that now,” the Russian politician said.
Meanwhile, State Duma deputy Zheleznyak suggested that the close first round finish between Macron and Le Pen created intrigue for the runoff in May. The head of the Russian Federation Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Konstantin Kosachev, compared France’s upcoming vote with the recent presidential election in the United States, which saw Hillary Clinton defeated by Donald Trump. In France, just like in the US, “hopeless tenacity in preserving the previous policy on the one hand will compete with hope for change on the other,” Kosachev wrote on his Facebook page. The only difference is that in the US “hopelessness was female,” he added, referring to Clinton, “and here it’s vice versa.”
The politician also added that the likely outcome – a Macron victory – will not solve France’s problems, but only postpone them. Fyodor Lukyanov, chairman of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy in Moscow, echoed this thought. In an interview with news agency Interfax he said he doesn’t believe that as a new president Macron could lead the country out of political and economic crisis. “It looks like he is a product of a political combination of circumstances rather than a representative of any distinct political program,” Lukyanov said, referring to the French politician. “If so,” he added, “the situation might only get worse in the future, and then the new political reality will not be better than the old one.”