Russia rejoices as France turns towards Moscow

The Kremlin will be happy with either a Le Pen or a Fillon victory in France's 2017 election. [Gene/Flickr]

Russia’s conservative media has celebrated the victory of François Fillon in the French Republican Party’s presidential primary. They believe he is their best hope for ending the EU’s sanctions on Moscow. EURACTIV France reports.

The Kremlin was restrained in its response to Fillon’s victory in the French centre-right primary.

“President Putin has already expressed his attitude towards the [French] primaries in his recent response to journalists’ questions. Moscow follows elections in other countries, including France, respectfully and keeping the required distance,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said on Monday (28 November), in response to questions about Vladimir Putin’s preference.

The Russian president feels no need to publically take sides one way or the other and risk an embarrassing situation if his preferred candidate loses. But the message from Putin’s subordinates, the state media and their approved commentators is unambiguous.

Labelled “the Kremlin’s favourite candidate”, the French former prime minister’s strong personal relations with the Russian president, his willingness to lift the sanctions on Moscow and his tough views on Islamic terrorism have earned him a warm reception in the Russian press.

Sputnik, the Kremlin’s international mouthpiece, did not appear concerned about sending mixed messages, with headlines like, “When Putin wins the French primary” alongside articles criticising the “international media” for seeing “the hand of the Kremlin” in the result.

This contradiction barely hides a certain satisfaction at seeing Russia’s adversaries frustrated. “And if a candidate supports Moscow, what can you do, get enraged and cry out in anger?” wrote an anonymous Sputnik author.

Conservatives’ joy

Katehon, an ultra-conservative think tank close to the Kremlin, made little effort to hide its joy at the result, publishing an article entitled, “Primaries in France: Putin wins again.”

“Victory for Fillon – defeat for the Atlantists,” another article proclaimed, quoting the President of the information committee of Russia’s Federal Council, Alexei Pouchkov. “If Fillon wins, the Berlin-Paris partnership on Russian affairs will dissolve. Merkel will be left with Poland and the Baltic countries. She will be almost alone,” said Pouchkov.

Almost without exception, the pro-Russian media believe the stage is set for a right-wing victory and that François Hollande – or his Socialist Party successor – has no chance. “It is 90% certain that France will radically turn towards Moscow in May 2017,” political scientist Sergei Markov predicted.

He said he is almost sure that the second round of the election will be fought between “two friends of Moscow: François Fillon and Marine Le Pen. Both candidates are opposed to sanctions and in favour of French sovereignty in the face of Washington, Berlin and Brussels.”

Warm Republican welcome in Moscow

These positions were strongly echoed by members of the French Republican Party in Russia. Around 60 party members gathered to celebrate their candidate’s victory in a hotel opposite the Kremlin.

Among them, Emmanuel Quidet, the president of the Franco-Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (whose economic council is presided by the oligarch and friend of Putin’s, Guennadi Timtchenko) and Philippe Pégorier, responsible for the party’s Russian governmental relations, director of Alstom in Russia and the former president of the Association of European Business.

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The two businessmen are fierce defenders of Kremlin policy and opponents of the economic sanctions on Russia. Their loyalty has not gone unnoticed: both have been decorated by Russia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sergei Lavrov, for “services to international cooperation”. Pégorier has also been awarded the “order of friendship” by Putin himself.

So Fillon’s partners in Russia may prove as useful to the Kremlin as to Paris.

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