Saturday 29 April 2017

Kremlin denies role in ‘fake news’ attacks on Macron

Emmanuel Macron at Bercy Finance Ministry in Paris
Emmanuel Macron at Bercy Finance Ministry in Paris

Richard Balmforth in Moscow

The Kremlin denied yesterday that it was behind media and internet attacks on the campaign of French presidential frontrunner Emmanuel Macron, though his camp renewed the charges against Russian media and a hackers’ group operating in Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said charges made by Mr Macron’s party chief, Richard Ferrand, were absurd.

“We didn’t have, and do not have, any intention of interfering in the internal affairs of other countries, or in their electoral processes in particular,” Mr Peskov told reporters. “That there is a hysterical anti-(President Vladimir) Putin campaign in certain countries abroad is an obvious fact.”

Mr Ferrand said on Monday that the French centrist politician, who is now seen by opinion polls as the favourite to win election in May, had become a “fake news” target of Russian media, and that his campaign was facing thousands of internet attacks.

With the political air in France highly charged in the run-up to the May election, the French government has declined to point the finger at anyone, despite high-level concerns of external meddling in campaigning.

An official French source said, however, that the question of cyber threats were being taken seriously and would be the focus of a defence council meeting of national security chiefs under President François Hollande. The source gave no date for this meeting, though the satirical weekly ‘Canard Enchainé’ said yesterday that it had been fixed for late next week.

Mr Ferrand said Moscow looked favourably on the policies of far-right leader Marine Le Pen and centre-right candidate François Fillon – both election rivals of Mr Macron – and both had been “mysteriously spared” from Russian media criticism.

Mr Macron’s strong pro-Europe stance was not to Russia’s liking however, he said.

Ms Le Pen, who heads the Front National and is Mr Macron’s closest competitor in the race for the Elyseé, wants to take France out of the European Union and supports Russian policy on Ukraine.

Yesterday, Mr Ferrand renewed those charges, saying that the databases and email boxes of Mr Macron’s En Marche (Onwards) party were under attack.

“If these attacks succeeded, the campaign of En Marche would become extremely difficult, if not impossible,” Mr Ferrand said in ‘Le Monde’ online.

He said about half of these thousands of attacks came mainly from Ukraine, and had been organised and co-ordinated by a “structured group”, and not by lone hackers.

“We are in the presence of an orchestrated attempt by a foreign power to destabilise a presidential election candidate,”

Mr Ferrand said.

He again pointed the finger at Russian state-controlled media Russia Today and Sputnik, saying they were spreading “the most defamatory” rumours about Mr Macron, including relating to his private life and the financing of his campaign.

Both Russia Today and Sputnik have denied spreading ‘fake news’ about Mr Macron.

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