Russia’s band is haunted by far-right candidate Le Pen

France’s right-wing extremist party Rassemblement National candidate for the 2022 French presidential election, Marine Le Pen.

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The leader of France’s nationalist and right-wing extremist political party, Marine Le Pen, has seen his momentum stagnate in the run-up to Sunday’s vote with his former ties to Russia resurfacing in recent days.

Le Pen won 23.1% of the vote in the first round of the French election on April 10 – and came in second and gave her a place in the final conversion this Sunday against incumbent President Emmanuel Macron, who received 27.8% of the votes.

The showdown between Macron and Le Pen is a repeat of the 2017 election, but this time, early opinion polls suggest she has a better chance of defeating him.

But in a major televised debate Wednesday against Macron, Le Pen was accused of being “dependent” on Russia, and political commentators said she failed to land any major blows against the French president. A poll on Thursday suggested Macron win the second round with 55% of the vote, while Le Pen gets 45%.

During her election campaign, Le Pen’s team allegedly had thousands of campaign leaflets containing a picture of her handshake with Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin, smashed. Her team said a typographical error had been the cause of the scrapping, not the image.

Macron told Le Pen during the two-hour debate on Wednesday: “When you talk to Russia, you talk to your banker,” according to a translation. Back in 2014, Le Pen’s party (National Front, now renamed National Rally) reportedly requested loans from Russian banks, including from First Czech Russian Bank – a lender said to have links to the Kremlin. Le Pen dismissed the charges on Wednesday, saying, “I am a completely free woman.”

She added that her team pays the loans every month and that she only borrowed from Russian banks because no French lender would lend money to her party.

Earlier this week, Russia’s opposition leader Alexei Navalny – in prison since returning to Russia last year after being treated for a poisoning attack – called on French voters to support Macron, claiming that Le Pen was too closely linked to Russia. Macron’s Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire also warned against Le Pen’s policies on Thursday, telling CNBC’s Charlotte Reed that France would look to withdraw from Europe if she arrived early on Sunday.

Mujtaba Rahman, CEO of the consulting firm Eurasia Group, told CNBC on Friday that Le Pen had managed to evade investigation in the run-up to the vote in the first round, “mainly because the campaign was so short and Zemmour [a far-right politician who also ran in the first round] made her look more moderate “

He said, however, that the level of media attention associated with the second round “has increased”, including over her ties to Russia.

Le Pen met Russian President Vladimir Putin face to face in 2017 ahead of that year’s presidential referendum in France. She has also previously supported some of Russia’s foreign policies, including the decision to invade Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014 – and argued that it was not illegal because the Crimean people had chosen to join Russia in a referendum. Western nations and the Ukrainian government considered this vote in 2014 to be illegal.

Back in 2017, she also told the BBC that the policy she stood for was also represented by former US President Donald Trump and by Putin.

Earlier this year, as Russia developed its military presence close to the border with Ukraine, Le Pen said she saw Moscow as an ally of France and that she did not believe Russia wanted to invade Ukraine.

Since the Kremlin’s invasion, Le Pen has welcomed France’s support for Ukrainian refugees. But she has also criticized some of the sanctions imposed on Moscow, arguing that the measures harm French companies and individuals.

Wednesday’s debate “will go down in history as a successful attempt to call into question Le Pen’s democratic legitimacy,” Alberto Alemanno, professor or European law at the HEC Paris Business School, said via email, given Macron’s attack on Le Pen’s economic relations with Putin’s Russia.

“This should capture the public imagination by inextricably linking a voice of Marine Le Pen to Putin’s Russia. To do so at the time of the Russian invasion of Ukraine appears to be one of the most powerful defenses against Macron’s presidency,” he added.

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