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Le Pen meets Putin ahead of French presidential election

© Sercom APRnews Photo Le Pen meets Putin ahead of French presidential election

French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen met Russian President Vladimir Putin during a visit to Moscow on Friday, Russian state television reported.

"We by no means want to influence the current events but we reserve the right to communicate with all representatives of all political forces of the country, as do our partners in Europe and the United States for example," Interfax news agency quoted Putin as telling Le Pen.

"I know that you represent quite a fast-developing spectrum of European political forces."

Putin's meeting with Le Pen was not announced this week when the Russian parliament confirmed that the leader of the National Front, an anti-immigrant and anti-European Union party, would be visiting Moscow on Friday to meet with lawmakers.

Earlier Friday, Le Pen met Russian parliamentary speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, calling for increasing cooperation with Russia in the fight against "terrorism".

Allegations of Russian interference

Le Pen’s trip comes less than a month before a French presidential election clouded by allegations of Russian interference, at a time when lawmakers in the US are investigating President Donald Trump's campaign links to Russia.

Le Pen, an admirer of both Trump and Putin, has made multiple visits to Russia, as have her father, niece and other members of the National Front, often meeting with Russian legislators.

She received a $9 million loan from a Russian bank in 2014 that raised concerns over Moscow's potential influence on her and her party.

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.

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

National Front Treasurer Wallerand de Saint-Just said 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 Le Pen could win the first round of voting but would lose the second round to centrist Emmanuel Macron.

A senior aide to Macron has accused Russia of using its state media to spread fake news to discredit Macron and influence the outcome of the vote.

The Russian connections of the number three presidential contender, François Fillon, have also been a feature of the campaign ahead of the first-round vote in a month's time.

The Kremlin has denied meddling in the campaign. It also said this week that a French media report alleging Fillon was paid to arrange introductions to Putin was "fake news".

by France24