World News

France warns Russia against meddling in election

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault arrives at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, February 7, 2017. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

PARIS (Reuters) - France said on Wednesday it would not accept interference by Russia or any other state in its presidential election, and would retaliate if necessary.

The pledge by Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault followed complaints by the party of election frontrunner Emmanuel Macron that his campaign was the target of ‘fake news’ put out by Russian media, as well as internet attacks on its databases.

“We will not accept any interference whatsoever in our electoral process, no more from Russia by the way than from any other state. This is a question of our democracy, our sovereignty, our national independence,” Ayrault told parliament.

He said France would set clear limits, “including retaliatory measures when that is necessary, because no foreign state can influence the choice of the French, no foreign state can choose the future president of the Republic.”

The Kremlin said on Tuesday that allegations made by Macron’s En Marche (Onwards!) movement were absurd. The centrist is currently favourite for the April/May election, ahead of far-right leader Marine Le Pen and conservative Francois Fillon.

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in an assessment in January that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered an effort to help Republican Donald Trump’s election chances by discrediting his Democrat rival Hillary Clinton during last year’s presidential campaign, including by hacking emails from the Democratic National Committee.

While Russia denies involvement, the U.S. experience has prompted security agencies to step up their guard against cyberattacks as Europe faces major elections this year in Germany and the Netherlands, as well as France.

French President Francois Hollande has called a meeting of national defence chiefs next week to discuss cyber security, demanding to see “specific monitoring and protection measures” to be taken during the election campaign, a statement from his office said. The meeting is set for Feb. 23.

Reporting by Andrew Callus and Richard Balmforth; Editing by Mark Trevelyan