Marine Le Pen downplays ties with Russia ahead of runoff – POLITICO

PARIS — Far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen said on Wednesday that accusations that she was close to Russia were “unfair” and reiterated that she had changed her stance on the Kremlin since the war in Ukraine.

“The process I am facing is particularly unfair,” the National Assembly politician said at a news conference in Paris, where she outlined her foreign policy proposals ahead of a runoff against incumbent Emmanuel Macron in France’s April 24 presidential election.

“Until the war in Ukraine broke out, I actually believed that it was in France’s interests to regain closer ties with Russia and … prevent Russia from building such a solid alliance with China,” Le Pen said.

But since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, Le Pen has struggled to shake off the image of a pro-Vladimir-Putin candidate, despite her attempts to downplay her affinity for the Russian leader and present herself as a mainstream candidate in the presidential campaign.

A longtime admirer of Putin, Le Pen Visited the Kremlin in 2017, praising the Russian president’s “new vision” of the world and accepting Russian loans to fund her party. Last month, Le Pen’s campaign team was reportedly forced to flee a million campaign papers because they showed a photo of her shaking hands with Putin. In early February, Le Pen said she “doesn’t believe at all” that Russia would invade Ukraine, and condemned “a misunderstanding of the issues and mindsets” in Russia.

She has since backed down, admitting on television that the conflict “changed” her opinion of Putin, and has consistently condemned the invasion. Earlier this month she called reports of civilian massacres by Russian forces in Bucha “war crimes” and called for a UN-led investigation.

On Wednesday, Le Pen said she shared Macron’s desire to “reconnect Russia to Europe” when he invited Putin to the Palace of Versailles in 2017 and his summer residence of Brégançon two years later.

She added that she supports closer ties between NATO and Russia “once the war between Russia and Ukraine is over and settled with a peace treaty.”

Le Pen also argued that it was “independent” of any foreign power and got a loan from a Russian bank “because I’ve never managed to get a loan, either in France…until now…or in Europe.” She added that the party continues to repay this loan.

During the press conference, Le Pen also downplayed her Eurosceptic stance.

“No one is against Europe,” she said, insisting that the desire to transform the EU is “to save it”.

“It’s the form that makes us disagree,” she said.

However, Le Pen’s earlier statements on Europe include a proposal to renegotiate the EU treaties and to include the primacy of French law over EU law in the country’s constitution after a referendum is held. Marine Le Pen downplays ties with Russia ahead of runoff - POLITICO

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