French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has said that once the Russia-Ukraine war is over, it will propose closer ties between NATO and Russia and withdraw France from the military command of the US-led alliance.
“As soon as the Russian-Ukrainian war is over and settled by a peace treaty, I will call for strategic rapprochement between NATO and Russia,” she told a news conference.
Le Pen, who cast 45% of the vote against 55% of Emmanuel Macron in the presidential run-off on April 24, called a foreign policy press conference to try to shed light on his previous close relationship with Vladimir Putin, leading to Macron’s claims that it is “complacent” and “financially dependent” on the Kremlin.
Le Pen said any talk of her betrayal of French interests or of Putin’s debtor was “inaccurate and particularly unfair.”
As she spoke, a protester stood up holding a heart-shaped photo of Le Pen and Putin shaking hands in the Kremlin in 2017. The protester was knocked to the ground by security guards and dragged to the floor.
In 2014, Le Pen’s party – then called the National Front and later renamed the National Rally – borrowed 9m euros from a Russian-Czech bank for local election campaigns. Still repaying the loan.
Five years ago, when Le Pen also faced Macron in the 2017 runoff, which she lost badly, Putin sheltered her in the Kremlin, posing for a handshake.
At the time, Le Pen said with admiration that he shared the same values as Putin and that a “new world order” was emerging with Putin, Donald Trump and her.
She changed her attitude towards Russia after the outbreak of war, condemning the invasion of Ukraine and declaring her independence from a foreign nation, and sought to focus on domestic sanctions, inflation, energy costs and the cost of a living crisis.
At the press conference, she said: “I have defended only the interests of France.” She said her approach was very similar to Macron’s, as he had built a personal relationship with Putin and continued a dialogue with him by inviting him to the Palace of Versailles and his summer residence in the Mediterranean.
Le Pen said better ties with Russia would prevent Moscow from getting too close to China, noting that he had reiterated Macron’s argument in the past.
On defense, Le Pen said: “I would not place our troops under either NATO integrated command or future European command,” adding that it would refuse any “subordination to the American protectorate.”
In the weeks leading up to what is expected to be a close vote, pro-European Macron has ravaged Le Pen for foreign policy reasons, attacking it for nationalism and friendships with right-wing leaders. He told a rally in Strasbourg this week that “nationalism is war”.
Le Pen changed his policy towards Europe five years ago, when he insisted that France leave the EU and the euro. But Macron said her proposed changes to the treaties, the removal of rules and cuts in budget contributions would mean that France would be pushed out of the EU.
“She wants to leave, but she doesn’t dare say so,” Macron said, accusing his opponent of wanting to form a special alliance with the right in Hungary and Poland. Le Pen took a loan from a Hungarian bank for the campaign and told a news conference that French banks had refused to lend to her.
Le Pen said he did not want Frexit, but a freer version of the EU. “No one is against Europe,” she said. “I would not stop paying France’s contribution to the EU, I want to reduce it.
But she said the UK’s Brexit was a great success. She said France’s “ruling political class” had been wrong in predicting a “cataclysm for the British”.
She said: “The British have got rid of the Brussels bureaucracy, which they could never bear to move on to an ambitious project of a global Britain. But she added: “This is not our project. We want to reform the EU from within.
Le Pen insisted she wanted to maintain close relations with Germany, but then launched a fierce attack on their strategic differences, which she said would mean ending a series of Franco-German joint military programs.
She said she would continue “reconciliation” with Germany, “without following the Macron-Merkel model of French blindness to Berlin.”