MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin told France’s President-elect Emmanuel Macron on Monday he wanted to put mistrust aside and work with him, in a change of tack after the Kremlin expressed support for Macron’s rivals in the presidential race.
“The citizens of France have trusted you with leading the country at a difficult time for Europe and the whole world community,” Putin told Macron, whose staff had accused Russia during the campaign of trying to damage their candidate.
The Kremlin said Putin told Macron in a congratulatory telegram: “The growth in threats of terrorism and militant extremism is accompanied by an escalation of local conflicts and the destabilization of whole regions.
“In these conditions it is especially important to overcome mutual mistrust and unite efforts to ensure international stability and security.”
Late on Friday, 1-1/2 days before polls opened, Macron’s campaign said it had been the target of a massive computer hack that dumped internal campaign emails online.
A New York-based cyber intelligence consultancy, Flashpoint, said there were indications a hacker group with ties to Russian military intelligence was behind the attack.
Putin has repeatedly denied interfering in the elections of any foreign countries, and rejected previous allegations about Kremlin-backed hacking operations.
Earlier in the campaign, a Macron aide had said Russia was mounting a campaign to disseminate “fake news” via cable television and social media to discredit Macron and help his rivals.
Putin had spoken favorably about Macron’s conservative rival Francois Fillon, who had said he wanted a reset of frayed relations with Russia. Later, after Fillon’s prospects faded under the weight of a nepotism scandal, Putin took the unusual step of granting a Kremlin audience to far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who was Macron’s opponent in Sunday’s run-off.
She told reporters after meeting Putin that if victorious, her first act would be to think about lifting the sanctions that the European Union imposed on Russia after it annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula three years ago.
Macron’s victory extends a losing run for Putin, who had banked on political upheaval in Western capitals bringing in new leaders better disposed toward Russia.
He is expected to run for re-election next year, and a lifting or easing of Western sanctions would help him secure a strong mandate from Russian voters, who are feeling the pain from an economic slowdown made worse by the sanctions.
During the U.S. presidential campaign, Putin spoke in glowing terms about Donald Trump. U.S. intelligence officials alleged Russia actively tried to help Trump’s campaign by hacking his opponents’ emails. Russia has denied that.
But since Trump took office, he has not delivered the promised rapprochement with Russia, instead sticking closely to the Russia policy espoused by his predecessor as president, Barack Obama.
Reporting by Alexander Winning and Christian Lowe; Editing by Mark Trevelyan