Marine Le Pen, the far-right French leader hopeful of a strong showing in next year’s presidential election, has defended borrowing from a Russian bank to fund her party – and promised closer ties between the Elysee Palace and the Kremlin if she wins next May. There are growing fears of Russian interference in the vote, after Donald Trump’s relationship with the Kremlin and Russia’s alleged role in hacking the Democratic party’s email server were hot topics in the US election. Foreign policy experts told Fairfax that Russia would benefit from “chaos” in Europe and a weakened NATO and EU, and it was not clear how far it would go to exploit the opportunities offered by next year’s presidential elections in France. Ms Le Pen admitted in 2014 that her party borrowed 9 million euros ($12.9 million) from a Russian-owned bank. Russia has also reportedly lent money to Greece’s Golden Dawn, Italy’s Northern League, Hungary’s Jobbik and the Freedom Party of Austria.
On the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Marine Le Pen defended the move. “I’m sorry, but I borrowed from a Russian bank, but it might as well have been a bank from Guatemala or from Spain,” she said. “French banks won’t lend to the National Front, it’s a way they have found to stifle democracy.”
But she said her presidency would feature a new friendship with Vladimir Putin – and hinted at an end to economic sanctions initiated after Russia took Crimea from Ukraine.
“There is no reason to be scared,” she said. “If we want a powerful Europe we had better negotiate with Russia and cooperate with them, have commercial agreements with them.”