France’s Macron targets Le Pen over ties to Russia

French President Emmanuel Macron has accused his far-right rival, Marine Le Pen, of being too close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Far-right French presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin
Far-right French presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin back in 2017. (Photo by Mikhail KLIMENTYEV / SPUTNIK / AFP)

French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday accused his far-right election rival Marine Le Pen of being too close to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, denying he had indulged the Kremlin over the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Russia and Ukraine risk becoming a key issue in France’s election campaign this month, as polls project Le Pen could make a serious challenge to the centrist Macron in the second round run-off on April 24.

“You should not be looking at me if you want to find complacency towards Vladimir Putin, or Russian financing,” he told reporters on a campaign visit to Brittany ahead of the first round of polls Sunday.

“You should be looking at the other candidates. Don’t forget that,” he said on a cam.

While Macron did not name Le Pen by name, his comments were a clear reference to the far-right National Rally (RN) leader who was hosted by Putin in 2017 and whose party is continuing to pay back a loan of some nine million euros from a Russian creditor.

Le Pen has sought to distance herself from Putin after invasion of Ukraine, saying he is “not the same person” she had met in 2017 and speaking of “war crimes” after the discovery of corpses outside Kyiv.

Macron has kept up dialogue with Putin even after the launch of the Russian invasion on February 24 but said that it was at the request of President Volodymyr Zelensky who believed such talks were still useful.

“I will do so, so long as the Ukrainian president asks me to have a dialogue with Russia, so long as France can play a role in making the negotiations progress, obtaining things on the humanitarian level and preparing for peace.”

His comments also came after bitter criticism from Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki over Macron’s policy of keeping up talks with Putin despite the mounting outrage over Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

“How many times have you negotiated with Putin and what have you achieved? We do not discuss, we do not negotiate with criminals. Criminals have to be fought against,” Morawiecki said Monday, addressing Macron.

“Nobody negotiated with Hitler. Would you negotiate with Hitler, with Stalin, with Pol Pot?” he asked.

Macron said that he had never used the situation in Ukraine for political ends and said he would only visit Zelensky in Kyiv if it could bring results.

“If it can bring something and have a useful effect I would do it either before or after” the presidential election, he said.

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Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France’s disabilities minister

France's disabilities minister will not face a new inquiry "as things stand" over a rape allegation that surfaced just after his nomination by President Emmanuel Macron last week, prosecutors have said, citing the anonymity of the alleged victim.

Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France's disabilities minister

Damien Abad has faced growing pressure to resign after the news website Mediapart reported the assault claims by two women dating from over a decade ago, which he has denied.

One of the women, identified only by her first name, Margaux, filed a rape complaint in 2017 that was later dismissed by prosecutors.

The other woman, known only as Chloe, told Mediapart that in 2010 she had blacked out after accepting a glass of champagne from Abad at a bar in Paris, and woke up in her underwear in pain with him in a hotel room. She believes she may have been drugged.

She did not file an official complaint, but the Paris prosecutors’ office said it was looking into the case after being informed by the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics, a group formed by members of France’s MeToo movement.

“As things stand, the Paris prosecutors’ office is not following up on the letter” from the observatory, it said, citing “the inability to identify the victim of the alleged acts and therefore the impossibility of proceeding to a hearing.”

In cases of sexual assault against adults, Paris prosecutors can open an inquiry only if an official complaint is made, meaning the victim must give their identity.

Abad has rejected the calls to resign in order to ensure the new government’s “exemplarity,” saying that he is innocent and that his own condition of arthrogryposis, which limits the movement of his joints, means sexual relations can occur only with the help of a partner.

The appointment of Abad as minister for solidarities and people with disabilities in a reshuffle last Friday was seen as a major coup for Macron, as the 42-year-old had defected from the right-wing opposition.

The new prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, said she was unaware of the allegations before Abad’s nomination, but insisted that “If there is new information, if a new complaint is filed, we will draw all the consequences.”

The claims could loom large over parliamentary elections next month, when Macron is hoping to secure a solid majority for his reformist agenda. Abad will be standing for re-election in the Ain department north of Lyon.