Thursday 21 September 2017

Le Pen visits Russia weeks before French elections

Ms Le Pen is expected to go forward to the two-candidate run-off in the presidential race (AP)
Ms Le Pen is expected to go forward to the two-candidate run-off in the presidential race (AP)

French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen is heading to Moscow for meetings with senior politicians less than a month before the election.

The National Front leader's visit comes on the heels of a trip this week to Chad, the base of a French military operation aimed at rooting out Islamic extremists from a swathe of Africa.

Ms Le Pen is seeking to bolster her international credentials ahead of the two-round French election on April 23 and May 7.

According to the head of the Russian Duma's international affairs committee, Leonid Slutsky, Ms Le Pen will hold meetings on the "international agenda such as the war on terrorism".

Her trip comes at a time when US politicians are investigating President Donald Trump's campaign links to Russia.

Ms Le Pen received a £7.2 million loan from a Russian bank in 2014 which raised concerns over Moscow's potential influence on her and her party.

She has made multiple visits to Russia, as have her father, niece and other members of the National Front, often meeting with Russian legislators.

Moscow has courted far-right parties in Europe in an influence-building campaign as friction between Russia and the West has mounted over the conflict in Ukraine and the Syrian civil war.

National Front treasurer Wallerand Saint Just said Ms Le Pen's trip is not a cash-raising exercise, though party members have said they are seeking millions to fund both the presidential and the ensuing parliamentary election campaigns.

Current polls suggest Ms Le Pen could win the first round of voting but would lose the second round to centrist Emmanuel Macron.

Ms Le Pen has said she considers Crimea - annexed from Ukraine in 2014 - a part of Russia, and would cultivate closer ties with Russia if elected president rather than pressuring it over Vladimir Putin's authoritarian policies.

Press Association

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