French far-right party National Rally is attempting to prevent the circulation of 1.2 million election pamphlets featuring leader Marine Le Pen shaking hands with Vladimir Putin, according to local reports.
The eight-page leaflet includes a picture of the Russian president meeting Ms Le Pen in Moscow in 2017, together with the caption “a woman of conviction”.
The pamphlets have already been distributed to National Rally’s departmental delegates, who have now been ordered to scrap them, French publication Liberation reported.
In the build up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Ms Le Pen consistently downplayed the tensions between the two countries, saying she did not believe “at all” that the Russian military would invade its neighbour.
Speaking last month, she described it as a “misunderstanding of the issues” in Russia and told reporters: “I don’t see what the Russians would do in Ukraine and what would be their interest there.”
After Thursday’s invasion, Ms Le Pen was forced to backtrack on these previous comments by calling for an “immediate end” to the invasion.
In a statement published to her website she condemned it as “unjustifiable without reservations”, while making no mention of the close ties she has previously enjoyed with Russia.
During the 2017 presidential elections, Ms Le Pen pledged to take a softer stance on Moscow if elected, and spoke out against economic sanctions imposed by the West.
The far-right party, previously known as Front National, has also benefited from financing from Russia after taking out a loan from a Russian bank in 2014 worth roughly €9 million. A court settlement in 2020 revealed that it will continue to be repaid until 2028.
A spokesperson for National Rally told The Independent that Ms Le Pen had met with Mr Putin “as part of her 2017 campaign and as a potential future head of state”, however denied that an order had been given to destroy the pamphlets.
Ms Le Pen is one of two prominent far-right figures preparing to challenge French President Emmanuel Macron in the upcoming elections, with the fist round set to take place next month.
Controversial candidate Eric Zemmour, who was convicted earlier this year for inciting racial hatred after describing unaccompanied migrant children as “rapists” and “murderers”, is currently slightly ahead of Ms Le Pen, according to the latest polls.
The Ifop-Fiducial poll placed Mr Macron on 25 per cent of the votes, Mr Zemmour on 16.5 per cent, and Ms Le Pen on 16 per cent. The poll saw conservative challenger Valerie Pecresse winning 15 per cent of the first round vote.
The incumbent is expected to win the second round run-off, as he did in 2017 against Ms Le Pen.
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