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Russian president Vladimir Putin has weighed into the French presidential election by meeting with far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in the Kremlin on Friday.
Mr Putin, who has previously praised Francois Fillon, France’s center-right candidate who has since seen his approval ratings hit by a funding scandal, met with Ms Le Pen on her visit to Moscow to talk with the parliament’s foreign affairs committee.
“We’re not trying in any way to intervene but we reserve the right for ourselves to meet with representatives of all political forces in the country, as our partners do, for example in Europe and the US,” said Mr Putin.
Ms Le Pen, according to a transcript provided by the Kremlin, said: “This meeting is especially important now that a serious terrorist threat hangs over all of us.”
The meeting with Ms Le Pen, who has called to an end to sanctions on Russia and to recognise its annexation of Crimea, will re-ignite concerns in France about Russian involvement in the elections.
Worries first arose when Russia’s First Czech-Russian Bank helped her finance an earlier campaign with a €9m loan in 2014.
The meeting also comes as Mr Fillon, who also opposes sanctions on Russia, has seen his chances of winning the French election weighed on by a number of funding scandals.
Mr Putin last year had called Mr Fillon an “upstanding person”.
In February, the campaign of centrist frontrunner Emmanuel Macron accused Russia and its state-owned media of using hacking and fake news to interfere with the French presidential race, something Russian officials deny.
The meeting with Mr Putin is likely to firm up Ms Le Pen’s foreign policy credentials.
Nicolas Bay, secretary-general of the FN, said on Friday that Ms Le Pen is “the least isolated of all the presidential candidates” on the international stage, with the support of “Donald Trump in the West and Vladimir Putin to the East”.
Ms Le Pen, who has said she admires the Russian leader, was visiting Russia at the invitation of Leonid Slutsky, head of the lower house of parliament’s foreign affairs committee. Le Pen had cut short a schedule of events to meet Mr Putin.
The FN is still on the look out for funding, as it does not have enough to finance both the presidential elections in May and legislative elections which follow a month after.
Florian Philippot, Ms Le Pen’s deputy, on Friday said that no bank funding would come from Russia, however, although they were looking at a number of other foreign banks.
“We won’t have any financing (of her presidential campaign) from Russian banks, I can guarantee that 100 percent,” he said on Franceinfo radio.
(Image via AFP.)
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