The French presidential hopeful has made no secret of her appreciation for Russias strongman leader, but her relationship with Trump is less clearcut

The week after Donald Trump won the US presidential election last November, Marine Le Pen was inaugurating the headquarters of her own election campaign in Paris, less than a mile from the Elyse Palace she hopes to move into soon.

The far-right, anti-immigration Front National leader had been the only French political leader to back Trump in his bid for the White House. She has also made no secret of her admiration for Russias president, Vladimir Putin.

Unveiling her campaign emblem, a blue rose, she said that her election as Frances president would form a trio of world leaders that will be good for world peace, resulting a worldwide motion that rejects unchecked globalisation, destructive ultra-liberalism, the elimination of nation states, the disappearance of borders.

Last month, Le Pen was in Moscow for a personal audience with Putin. A new world has emerged in these past years, she said. Its the world of Vladimir Putin, its the world of Donald Trump in the US. I share with these great nations a vision of cooperation , not of submission.

Clearly, there is ideological common ground between the three leaders: variations on a topic of nation-first politics, is supportive of economic protectionism and immigration controls, mistrust of international confederations and institutions such as Nato or the EU, and a rejection of globalism and the liberal consensus.

But Le Pens actual ties with the two leaders differ significantly. With Russia, at the least, they go beyond the ideological to the personal and the practical. Her meeting with Putin in March was reported to be their first; but according to French investigative journalists, it is possibly their third.

Marine
Marine Le Pen satisfied Vladimir Putin in Moscow in March. The French presidential hopeful has visited Russia several times in recent years. Photo: Mikhail Klimentyev/ TASS

Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marines father and an admirer of authoritarianism and ultra-nationalism, told the BBC in an interview recorded before last month that his daughter had previously gratified the Russian president, and her former foreign affairs adviser Aymeric Chauprade said in 2014 unofficial talks had taken place.

Unless she supposes media attention will serve her, Le Pens trip-ups abroad are often conducted discreetly. She has, though, visited Russia in 2011 when she told the daily Kommersant: I wont hide that, in a certain sense, I admire Vladimir Putin and in June 2013 and April 2014.

Front National aides and MEPs have been to Moscow far more often and two ruling-party Russian MPs were honoured guests at the 2014 party seminar that re-elected Le Pen party leader with a 100% mandate.

In farther displays of empathy, Le Pen has called for completely stupid EU sanctions against Russia to be lifted, said there was no invasion of Crimea because it had always been Russian, and argued Ukraine had undergone a coup dtat.

Nor has the party been shy about accepting Russian money, on the grounds that no French bank will lend to it. The party borrowed 9m in 2014 from the First Czech Russian Bank( which subsequently lost its licence) and acknowledged attempting 3m from Russias Strategy bank in 2016.

The FN has always denied the Russian loans had bought Moscow any influence with the party. Le Pen told Le Monde the suggestion was ridiculous and outrageous, adding: So because we get a loan, that dictates our foreign policy? Weve held this[ pro-Russian] line for a long time.

There seems little doubt that for my own part, Russia is attempting to influence the outcome of Frances presidential election, whose final round on 7 May will pit Le Pen against the independent centrist Emmanuel Macron. Current polls suggest she will lose.

Japanese cyber-security group Trend Micro said in a 41 -page report this week that the Russian hackers known as Pawn Storm, Fancy Bear or APT2 8 thought by US spy agencies and private cyber-security firms to be an arm of Russian intelligence had targeted Macrons En Marche! using exactly the same tactics utilized against the Democratic National Committee( DNC) in the operation which US authorities believe helped sway the election in Trumps favour.

Macrons campaign team confirmed they had been the target of at the least five sophisticated cyber-attacks since January aimed at accessing sensitive data. Emmanuel Macron is the only nominee in the French presidential campaign to be targeted, the campaign was indicated in a statement. Its no coincidence.

Le Pens relations with Trump are less clearcut. She has said she would have voted for him if she could, and he has come close to endorsing her, telling AP on the eve of the first round that the far-right leader was the strongest on borders, and the strongest on whats been going on in France.

In January, Le Pen was photographed drinking coffee in Trump Tower with her partner, the partys vice-president Louis Aliot, and Guido George Lombardi, a businessman neighbour of Trumps “whos had” portrayed himself as a kind of European far-right fixer for the president.

Lombardi was known to have held a fundraising party for the Front National the previous evening, and most of the efforts by Le Pens entourage in the US are so far believed to have been directed towards securing much-needed contributions to party funds.

But Trump and Le Pen did not meet, staff from both sides have insisted. Nor did the Front Nationals European affairs consultant, Ludovic de Danne, or its US representative, Denis Franceskin, get to see Trump in November, when Lombardi invited them to Trump Tower during the elections night party.

The FN representatives were told the president-elect did not have security clearance to come down to the vestibule. But in pre-election remarks to the Hollywood Reporter, Trump said there was no common ground to be explored with Europes far right and he did not want to establish alliances beyond the Atlantic.

Some of his backers are less reticent. Le Pen has met resulting Trump supporters including congressman Steve King, a Republican from Iowa who has courted controversy for constructing incendiary commentaries about immigrants.

And while Steve Bannons star may now be waning, the former Breitbart CEO and Trumps chief strategist has built no secret of his admiration for the French far right.

Bannon told French website Radio Londres last summer that he saw Marion Marchal-Le Pen, Le Pens niece, as the new rising star, and predicted Frances 2017 elections would be historic. Marchal-Le Pen has praised alternative media and said she would be delighted to work with Breitbart if it opened a Paris bureau, as it has promised but so far failed to do.

Bannon has also drawn inspiration from some of the Front Nationals favourite literature, including the works of Charles Maurras, a far-right Catholic theorist seen as the founding father of French ultra-nationalism, and Jean Raspail, author of The Camp of the Saints, a highly controversial 1973 novel depicting a France submerged by immigration and often described as racist.

The far-right candidate is also backed by a ruthless, highly organised and quite popular web and social media campaign that echoes the successful online agitprop techniques used by Trumps alt-right advocates during the US presidential campaign. US-based far-right internet warriors are reportedly helping out by pretending to be French.

Le Pen herself, however, seems to think that if the Trump-Le Pen nexus is an inspiration for anyone, it is for the US president.

I do not take Trump as a model, she told La Voix du Nord newspaper in January. He is the one who is applying what I have been proposing for years.

Read more: www.theguardian.com