We have seen at least three major influence tools the Kremlin employed to influence the French presidential elections.
- First, there have been long-standing direct financial support for Marine Le Pen. No other active European politician has received such open financial package and a direct endorsement during the campaign. We can argue that the Kremlin has simply bought her, as it became one of the major donors of her political activities. The Kremlin did not create Marine Le Pen politically, but it has used her rise, caught her sympathies and effectively became one of her major shareholders. The fact that this doesn’t discard her from French political life only shows how the French public feels about a potential president being in a client relationship to the current Kremlin regime.
- Second, as many Western intelligence agencies warned, we have seen a massive flood of pro-Kremlin disinformation aimed at hurting Mr. Macron and effectively supporting Mrs. Le Pen. These actions have been overt, probably given the fact the resistance from the French side has been almost non-existent, outside of media fact-checking projects.
- Third, there have been various efforts from reportedly Kremlin proxies and similar entities trying to hack campaign of Mr. Macron. We shall see how the local investigations turn out, but it is clear that these tactics of hacking the politicians the Kremlin wants to hurt to support its Trojan horses and preferred candidates is very frequent.
In general, we can say that France has one of the least developed policies for countering hostile disinformation operations compared to other major European countries as we have shown in our reports. Similarly as in the USA prior to 2016 elections, the long term ignorance of this threat from the French mainstream political parties has opened a door for deep hostile interference supporting pro-Kremlin goals. So far, it is hard to assess the impact of the Kremlin interference. It is however clear that without Russian money, Marine Le Pen would not be able to perform her campaign in the current setting and scale.
Jakub Janda is head of the Kremlin Watch Program and deputy director at the European Values Think-Tank, based in Prague. In 2016, he was tasked by Czech security and intelligence institutions to consult on the “Influence of Foreign Powers” chapter within the Audit of National Security conducted by the Czech government.