In an unprecedented move, the Russian president has met with a candidate for the French presidency in Moscow.
The meeting between the leader of the far-right eurosceptic FN party Marine Le Pen and Vladimir Putin has reignited fears of Russian support for far-right groups in Europe.
Putin told Le Pen he had no intention of influencing the French elections.
“We are trying to maintain relations with the ruling authorities and opposition representatives too. We don’t want to influence in any way the events underway.”
Le Pen said, if elected, she would consider what she had to do to swiftly lift EU sanctions imposed on Russia over the Ukraine crisis.
“For a long time I’ve called for France and Russia to resume cultural, economic, and strategic relations, especially now when we are facing a major terrorist threat,” Le Pen told Putin.
“It's now the world of Putin, the world of Donald Trump,” Le Pen says after meeting with Russian president pic.twitter.com/KLqKK1ptot— Alec Luhn (@ASLuhn) March 24, 2017
After the meeting she told reporters she was not trying to boost her bid for the presidency, however, the meeting with Putin is likely to go down well with her supporters, many of whom admire the Russian leader’s stance on social and moral issues.
The audience with a key player on the world stage also gives her a level of international recognition, that hasn’t yet enjoyed in the course of her campaign.
Last week, her rival Emmanuel Macron, met with the German Chancellor – underlining their different international outlooks. Before that he also met with the British premier Theresa May.
The legal troubles dogging presidential campaign of French far-right's Marine Le Pen #newsgraphic from
AFPgraphics</a> <a href="https://t.co/kA3Fzg3Nlu">pic.twitter.com/kA3Fzg3Nlu</a></p>— AFP news agency (AFP) March 24, 2017
With the first round of elections just a month away, opinion polls show Le Pen making it through to the second round of the election on May 7, but then losing to centrist candidate Macron.