Unexpected French Front-Runner: A pro-Kremlin candidate in the Elysee Palace anyway?

16:41 Nov. 21, 2016

A pro-Kremlin candidate in the Elysee Palace anyway?

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, meets with former French Prime Minister Francois Fillon in the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Thursday, March 21, 2013 (AP Photo)

Putin admirer wins first round of France's centre-right presidential primary

Francois Fillon, a former prime minister of France and economic liberal, moved from behind Alain Juppé and Nicolas Sarkozy in the country's center-right presidential primary to win the first round of voting on Sunday.

But why does Fillon have everyone talking? It's largely because of how he relates to two of Europe's biggest figures of political concern: National Front leader Marine Le Pen, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, writes Josh Lowe in his article for the Newsweek titled "Who is Francois Fillon and why has he got Europe's attention?"

Le Pen, and her chances of victory or defeat in the presidential election proper in spring 2017, is the topic of discussion for France's political classes and moderates across Europe. Charismatic and disciplined, Le Pen has spent years gradually rehabilitating the image of the far-right National Front, winning local and regional elections and preparing for a shot at the presidency.

Most polls suggest that Le Pen will make it past the first round of voting in the presidential election. Once there, she is likely to face off against whoever wins the center-right primary; Fillon or Juppé.

Read also Master of puppets: how Russia undermines Europe with its allies

Putin, meanwhile, is a more distant danger for French voters but a pressing one for Europe's political elites. Emboldened by the Brexit vote in Britain and Donald Trump's rise in America, Putin has spooked the politicians in the continent's West; his ever-increasing confidence intervening in the Syrian conflict and attempts to extend his reach further into Eastern Europe,  have led to a toughening of anti-Russian rhetoric.

Watch also UT Exclusive: Rise of far right in Europe is threat to EU unity

Le Pen, whose appeal is in part based on a rhetoric of "strong leadership," is unabashedly Putin-sympathetic. That's par for the course for Europe's populist right. More surprising is Fillon's Putin-friendly positioning.

Recently, Fillon has called for a coalition with Putin to fight the Islamic State militant group. He also saluted Putin's "cold and effective pragmatism" and denounced sanction on Russia.

Observers say a Fillon-Le Pen run-off, which is more than likely, would mean a pro-Kremlin candidate in the Elysee Palace whatever happens.

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