World News

France's Le Pen to visit Moscow on Friday

MOSCOW/PARIS (Reuters) - French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen will visit Russia on Friday, a country whose leader she admires and which has been at the centre of allegations of interference in the French election campaign via media outlets.

A spokesman for the National Front leader confirmed the trip to Moscow after Russian news agencies reported an invitation from Leonid Slutsky, head of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, to meet Russian lawmakers.

“I confirm the visit to Moscow”, said a Le Pen spokesman by text message. He did not respond when asked whether she would meet President Vladimir Putin.

Last year Le Pen, one of the frontrunners in France’s presidential election, said she, U.S. President Donald Trump and Putin “would be good for world peace” and she has taken a foreign policy line strongly supportive of Moscow.

Her stance pre-dates the warm words of Trump for a man whom other world leaders mistrust and who is subject to economic sanctions by the European Union and the United States over his annexation of Crimea.

While most mainstream political groups in Europe have condemned Russia in connection with the Ukraine conflict, Le Pen has said the EU provoked the crisis by threatening Russia’s interests.

Le Pen’s ties to Russia have been subject to intense scrutiny. Her party took a 9-million-euro loan from a Moscow-based bank in 2014. Senior National Front figures have been frequent visitors to Moscow, according to diplomats.

A senior aide to centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, Le Pen’s main opponent in the election and the favourite to win, has accused Russia of using its state media to spread fake news to discredit Macron and influence the outcome of the vote.

The Russian connections of the number three presidential contender, Francois Fillon, have also been a feature of the campaign ahead of the first-round vote in a month’s time.

The Kremlin has denied meddling in the campaign. It also said this week that a French media report alleging Fillon was paid to arrange introductions to Putin was “fake news”.

Reporting by Denis Pinchuk and Simon Carraud; Writing by Alessandra Prentice and Andrew Callus; Editing by Christian Lowe and Richard Balmforth