French far-right leader Marine Le Pen dropped in on Russia’s Vladimir Putin for a chat Friday, in a move that once again stoked the argument over Russian influence in Western politics. According to her Twitter account, the two “discussed at length the international situation and Islamist terror,” as well as “the fate of eastern Christians, who are threatened every day by Islamist fundamentalists.” Le Pen, who is currently tipped to win the first round of the French presidential elections at the end of April, is politically closest to Putin out of all the candidates running—with a platform of nationalism, euro-skepticism and a hard line on Islamist terror and immigration that her opponents decry as racist.
However, she had appeared to fall from grace with the Kremlin as the more electable former prime minister Francois Fillon won the nomination of the center-right Republican party. In December, after Fillon’s primary victory, reports surfaced that Russia’s Deposit Insurance Agency had told Le Pen’s Front National to repay a 9 million euro ($10 million) loan it had received from First Czech-Russian Bank (which has since been dissolved).
Fillon, who has been equally outspoken about the need for a rapprochement with Russia, has enjoyed extremely favorable coverage on Russian state TV.