From Paris to Putin
As war rages in eastern Ukraine, Europe has to contemplate the unthinkable: a pro-Putin leader of a major European nation who, experts fear, could weaken the Western alliance just when it has assumed new relevance.
A standout moment from Wednesday’s debate was Macron highlighting Le Pen’s links to Russia and her admiration for Putin. In 2014 her party took out a loan of 9 million euros (about $12 million) from the First Czech Russian Bank, which allegedly has links to the Kremlin.
“You talk about your banker when you talk about Russia, that’s the problem,” Macron told his opponent. “You depend on Russian power, you depend on Mr. Putin.”
Le Pen said in response that she was “a completely free and independent woman” and that no French bank would lend to her. Nevertheless she told a BBC interviewer in 2017 that her policies “are the policies represented by Mr. Trump, they’re represented by Mr. Putin.” While many of France’s allies accuse Putin’s forces of committing genocide and look to make his regime a pariah, Le Pen is proposing a NATO-Russia summit as soon as the war is over.
“For sure she has sympathies with Putin,” said Marie Jourdain, a visiting fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank and previously a senior figure in the French Ministry of Defense. “Since the outbreak of war she has been careful not to support Putin. But she says that when the war is over she would have NATO-Russia rapprochement as if nothing has happened.”
In stark contrast to Macron’s establishment credentials, Le Pen’s flagship foreign policy goal is to take France out of the NATO Integrated Strategic Command — a long-held promise that would end the country’s senior leadership role within the alliance. Charles de Gaulle did this in 1966, and it took until 2009 for France to rejoin.
France would still be bound by NATO’s Article 5, which guarantees a shared military response if any member is attacked.
Russia’s distrust of NATO is a principal driving factor in the current crisis: One of Putin’s demands before the war was that Ukraine rule out joining indefinitely. (President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has since said Ukraine will not join anytime soon.)
And because France would retain a veto over new NATO members, a newly skeptical and Moscow-friendly Paris could thwart Sweden and Finland’s mooted ambitions to join.
“As things stand it’s hard to imagine any member state saying no [to new NATO members], but if Le Pen comes in?” Jourdain said. “It might not be so difficult for her to say, ‘Well, I’m not going to ratify that.’ She might want to get back into dialogue with Putin, rather than provoke him further.”
Le Pen would also reduce payments to the bloc and undermine the principle that member states give E.U. laws primacy — another potential bonus for Russia that suspiciously eyes the E.U.’s military and geographic expansion.