After Donald Trump won the elections in the US, Twitter was abuzz with the picture of potential UN Security Council country leaders that included Theresa May, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and Marine Le Pen. So now all eyes are on France and its upcoming presidential elections. The possibility of ‘Frexit’ in case of Le Pen’s win is alarming enough, but Russia is also on the agenda. Russian-French relations have been strained since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis, but have got even worse after President Hollande accused Russia of war crimes in Syria that purportedly prompted Vladimir Putin to cancel his trip to France. While in American elections Russia had a clear favorite, and did not really have a plan B for Hillary Clinton’s win, French elections seem to be much more comforting.
In the recently finished primaries on the right, the losing candidate Alain Juppe criticised the winner Francois Fillon for leaning too close to Russia. Fillon did defend Russia’s actions on a number of occasions and even wished for a Putin-Trump alliance. Putin admitted himself that he cultivated a good relationship with Fillon in 2008-2012, probably because they both belong to the J. Mearsheimer’s ‘I don’t give a damn about small countries’ sovereignty’ school of thought. On top of that, Fillon fits well with the conservative turn of the Russian government, being a vocal supporter of la Manif Pour Tous (anti-gay marriage movement in France), whose ‘traditional family’ poster has also been adopted by Russian anti-gay activists.
Marine Le Pen managed to shift Front National further to mainstream by purging some of her father’s most racist friends and allies and settling on a more conventional anti-migrant xenophobia. After all, Nicolas Sarkozy’s government expelled Roma migrants and closed borders way before the refugee crisis. Ms. Le Pen has been a welcome guest in Moscow and received a large loan from a Russia-affiliated bank for her party. Eurosceptic, pro-Trump and anti-NATO, Le Pen would be a perfect partner for Putin and the worst nightmare for the EU. At the same time, Sputnik News, a pro-Russian propaganda outlet, puts Fillon and not Le Pen into their IR dream ménage à trois with Putin and Trump. [dirty joke edited]
The French left does not bode as well for Russia as the right. French Prime Minster and socialist contender Manuel Valls supports President Hollande’s tough line on Russia in Syrian matters, but indicated that the sanctions against Russia might be lifted if there is peace in Ukraine. Another contender for the presidential post from the left, Emmanuel Macron, a politician from the left who does not support Francois Hollande’s stance on Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis might also be a good bet for Moscow. He visited Russia and voiced support for the end of anti-Russian sanctions. Nonetheless, economic cooperation between Russia and France continues despite the sanctions as evidenced by about a thousand alpine French goats who have just arrived in the Urals to jumpstart Russian production of goat cheese.
It seems Russia is likely to profit from the results of the presidential elections in France. The contenders support a warming up in the relations with Russia, albeit to a different degree. Even if Manuel Valls wins the elections, EU’s united front for anti-Russia sanctions may be significantly weakened. Crimea might even be recognized as Russian despite the recent ICC statement. In any case, bad news for Ukraine.