Marine Le Pen blames Macron for dependency on Russian oil

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With just days to go until France heads to the polls for the first round of the presidential ballot, National Rally leader Ms Le Pen is enjoying a surge in popularity. This week a new survey by Harris Interactive show’s the far-right leader could fall just three percentage points behind incumbent President Emmanuel Macron in a second round run-off. Meanwhile, a consensus of polls have shown that Ms Le Pen’s popularity continues to grow in the past two weeks compared to Mr Macron’s dwindling support.

Mr Macron is still likely to reclaim the keys to the Élysée Palace, but Ms Le Pen has gained significant ground campaigning to La France Profonde (Deep France) on France’s cost of living crisis.

The President has barely hit the campaign trail due to the ongoing geopolitical crisis in Ukraine while Ms Le Pen has garnered support via a proximity campaign, visiting a number of small towns and villages. 

The National Rally leader’s recent upsurge in support has come as a surprise, considering just months ago her campaign was at risk of collapse over her past links to Vladimir Putin. 

In 2017, while campaigning for the last presidential election, Ms Le Pen met with Putin in the Kremlin and repeated her support for Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, and her opposition to the sanctions imposed by the EU. 

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She told Putin that if elected she would “envisage lifting the sanctions quite quickly.”

Months before meeting the Russian leader, Ms Le Pen once again sided with the Kremlin on Crimea.

In an interview with French channel BFM TV, she said: “I absolutely disagree that it was an illegal annexation.

“A referendum was held and residents of Crimea chose to rejoin Russia.”

In February 2014 Russian forces swept into Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and took control of Crimea. 

Months later, the Kremlin organised a referendum, branded by the UK government as “farcical” and “illegitimate”,  in which more than 95 percent of voters in Crimea backed joining Russia.

But in 2017, Ms Le Pen however claimed that she saw no reason to dispute the referendum result and promised to work more closely with Mr Putin if she won the presidency. 

She said: “I see no grounds whatsoever to question this referendum.”

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When she asked if she viewed Crimea as part of Russia, Ms Le Pen replied: “Yes”.

For years, Ms Le Pen had defined herself against the West’s stance on Putin.

Just months after the EU imposed measures against Russia, her party, then known as the National Front, controversially borrowed €9million (£7.5million) from a prominent Russian bank.

Some have claimed that the loan was a reward for Ms Le Pen’s public support over Crimea. 

Mikhail Kasyanov, who was Prime Minister under Putin before joining the opposition, alleged to the BBC in 2017: “For me there is no doubt that [the loan] was authorised by the Kremlin.

“[It was] a special operation, a special recommendation of those businesspeople to help Marine Le Pen.”

After Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine on February 24, support for Mr Macron spiked, with the leader having been seen playing a central role in diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the war.

Meanwhile, Ms Le Pen’s past endorsement of Putin severely affected her popularity, as well as that of her far-right rival Éric Zemmour, who had also previously praised the Russian leader. 

Mr Le Pen subsequently told BFMTV the war had “partly changed” her view of the Russian President, adding: “Yes it’s an authoritarian regime, historically and in culture.”

She described the invasion of Ukraine as “a clear violation of international law and absolutely indefensible”.

When asked about meeting Putin in 2017 she replied: “The Vladimir Putin of five years ago is not exactly that of today”.

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