PARIS — In the final months before the French elections, the National Front — the country’s far-right populist party — is struggling financially.
But the reason for the party’s newfound woes has shed new light on an issue that extends far beyond France’s own borders. The issue is Vladimir Putin's Russia and its apparent interest in interfering in election campaigns abroad.
While the fact that both the FBI and the CIA agree that Russia intervened to help elect Donald Trump has shocked the American political establishment, in France the idea hardly makes headlines anymore.
By now, the ties between Russia and the country’s own far right are well known: Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Front, has long accepted millions of dollars in cash transfusions to fund her party, while in recent years she and other party officials have frequently been seen in Moscow on a series of unofficial visits.
Now, however, that relationship seems less bulletproof than it once did.
Earlier this year, Le Pen requested a loan of approximately $29.3 million from a Russian bank to fund her presidential campaign in the upcoming election: French banks typically refuse to finance the National Front. In any case, in July, the Central Bank of Russia revoked the license of the First Czech Russian Bank, which had previously loaned the National Front $9.8 million in 2014.
Now, the party has to find another lender — and fast.
“The loss of the FCRB was a hard blow for us,” the party’s treasurer, Wallerand de Saint Just, told Bloomberg on Thursday. “The Russian loan was a stable resource. Now we are still searching for loans.”
Barring political fallout, Le Pen and the National Front could likely find another Russian lender in the run-up to the French elections in April and May 2017. But the failure of this one particular deal only served to underscore how important Putin’s Russia has become in keeping afloat far-right parties across Europe.
Earlier this week, Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party, traveled to Moscow and signed a so-called cooperation agreement with Putin’s United Russia Party, according to a statement from the Freedom Party. Strache also recently met with Michael T. Flynn, Donald Trump’s pick for national security adviser.
Outside the spectrum of the National Front, François Fillon, the more mainstream conservative candidate in the French election, has also encouraged strengthening ties with Putin’s Russia. Fillon has advocated working with Moscow to fight terrorism and, in general, lifting sanctions on Russia.
If elected, Fillon would join a cadre of Western politicians of a similar mindset — including, most prominently, Donald Trump, who have praised what he has described as Putin’s “great control over his country.”