PARIS — Marine Le Pen, the French far right’s presidential candidate, has never hidden her admiration for President Vladimir Putin of Russia, and on Friday she met with him in the Kremlin.
Russian television broadcast images of Le Pen, gesticulating energetically across the table from a disengaged-looking Putin. Earlier, she called for “developing relations” with Russia and “cooperation” in antiterrorism. Both were nods to her presidential campaign platform, which advocates closer ties with Putin, friendliness toward President Donald Trump, and rejection of the European Union.
The meeting highlighted the potential for a general realignment of relations with Russia, even at a time when Moscow has been accused of meddling in Western elections through computer hacking and the promotion of fake news, sowing alarm on both sides of the Atlantic.
Putin’s Russia has long been a source of aid for Le Pen’s National Front. In 2014, her party received a $9.7 million loan from a Russian bank; Le Pen said French banks were shunning her party. The loan nonetheless drew condemnation from the ruling Socialists as an unsavory example of foreign financing for a French political party.
Denying any quid pro quo, the National Front was the only French party to approve Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and its officials have regularly called for the lifting of Western sanctions against Russia. National Front officials regularly visit Russia. From its earliest origins, the party has not been reticent about displaying an affinity for authoritarian rulers.
“I won’t hide that, in a certain sense, I admire Vladimir Putin,” Le Pen was quoted as saying in the Russian paper Kommersant in 2011. “He makes mistakes, but who doesn’t? The situation in Russia is not easy.”
Her foreign policy positions in the 2017 campaign — Le Pen is favored to win in a first round of voting April 23 but lose in the second round two weeks later — have a clear pro-Russia tilt. Aides have praised Le Pen’s ideological closeness to Trump and Putin, saying she is well placed to form alliances with both.
“She’s the only one who can speak with both Putin and Trump,” one of Le Pen’s top lieutenants, Jean-Lin Lacapelle, said in an interview in Paris two weeks ago.