Russian President Vladimir Putin granted an audience to French far-right party leader Marine Le Pen in the Kremlin on Friday, bestowing a level of international recognition that has so far eluded her in the countdown to France’s presidential election.
Opinion polls show Le Pen, who has said she admires Putin, getting through to the second, decisive round of France’s presidential election on May 7 but then losing to centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron.
Le Pen backs the lifting of the European Union’s economic sanctions imposed on Russia over its role in the Ukraine conflict – a stance she reiterated on Friday.
“We attach great importance to our relations with France, but at the same time we try to maintain equal relations both with the current authorities and with representatives of the opposition,” Putin told Le Pen at their meeting.
“We do not want to influence events in any way, but we reserve the right to talk to representatives of all the country’s political forces, just as our partners in Europe and the United States do.”
Putin added that Le Pen represented a range of political forces that was gaining momentum.
The meeting with Putin represented a coup for Le Pen. She had traveled to New York earlier this year and was seen at Trump Tower, the New York home of U.S. President Donald Trump, but did not meet Trump himself.
Her Kremlin audience is likely to go down well with her core supporters in France, many of whom admire the Russian leader’s conservative stance on social and moral issues.
Back home in France, the meeting was the top item on the website of French conservative daily Le Figaro. Another French newspaper, Le Monde, said Putin had “anointed” Le Pen.
However, some French voters may be put off by Le Pen’s association with a leader widely seen in the West as autocratic.
In an interview published this week in French daily Liberation, her opponent, Macron, said Le Pen had a “toxic” fascination with Russia.
“We must certainly talk with Russia to ensure stability in the Middle East. But let’s not forget who they are, what they do, and the nature of their regime,” Macron said.