French media brands presidential hopeful Fillon as ‘Putin’s friend’
During the first primary on Sunday, Fillon, who served as prime minister in Nicolas Sarkozy’s government from 2007 till 2012, not only beat his former boss, but also came in first ahead of Alain Juppe, the 71-year-old ex-prime minister and mayor of Bordeaux.
Contrary to the current French establishment, Fillon advocates lifting the EU sanctions imposed on Russia for what Brussels insists was “undermining of Ukrainian sovereignty” following the 2014 Euromaidan coup in Kiev.
“Vladimir Putin can rejoice. If Francois Fillon enters the Elysee [Palace], he will count a new friend in the circle of Western leaders. Indeed, like Donald Trump, the former French Prime Minister intends to work ardently with Russia,” Le Point wrote on Monday.
“The two men are on first name terms and appreciate one another,” the newspaper stated, claiming that of all French politicians, Fillon “maintains the closest relationship with Vladimir Putin.”
Le Point recalled how Fillon and Putin met on numerous occasions, including their rendezvous at Putin’s residences at Novo-Ogaryovo outside Moscow and in Sochi.
“A week after the death of Francois Fillon’s mother in August 2012,” Putin allegedly offered his French “friend” a bottle of Mouton Rothschild wine, marked with the year of Fillon’s mother’s birth, according to Le Point.
“Francois Fillon does not hide his proximity with Vladimir Putin,” French broadcaster BFM TV reported. “A friend is a big word but it’s true that they know and appreciate each other,” Ulysse Gosset, BFM’s international editor stated.
“Francois Fillon does not like it when they say he is Putin’s friend, however. He is capable of telling him [Putin] the truth in the face,” the journalist added.
“The former French Prime Minister has always advocated a conciliatory position towards the Russia of Vladimir Putin, especially on… issues such as Ukraine and Syria,” Le Monde wrote, adding that Fillon’s opinions “have often resonated pleasantly in Moscow.”
Comparing Fillon’s victory to the surprising results of the US presidential election, L'Obs magazine wrote that although the two politicians’ programs differ, it is their “common admiration for Vladimir Putin” that brings them together.
“With the victory of Donald Trump and the possible duel [between] Fillon-Le Pen in the second round of the French presidential election, Vladimir Putin could end up with ‘friends’ in power in two of the major capitals of the West, Washington and Paris,” according to the publication.
This outcome “would represent a diplomatic shift to 180 degrees,” it added, saying that Fillon’s gain was even more unexpected, as – unlike the election campaign in the US – “in France, the Russian question was hardly mentioned during the campaign of the first round of the Republican primary.” But with regard to Russia being “one of the real differences” between Fillon and Juppe, “it can be expected to resurface” in the run-up to the French presidency.
Should Fillon continue his success during the primaries, France might have not just one but two presidential candidates who allegedly are “Putin’s friends,” journalist Pierre Haski who wrote the L'Obs piece, pointed out on Twitter. He was referring to Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front. “If we have Fillon and Le Pen in the 2nd round in May, we will have two Putin's friends, one of whom will be sure to win! Champagne in the Kremlin!” his post read.
Donc je reprends mon tweet d'hier : Si on a Fillon-Le Pen au 2e tour en mai, on aura 2 amis de Poutine, sûr de gagner! Champagne au Kremlin! https://t.co/XlrJMwFm8S— pierre haski (@pierrehaski) November 20, 2016
The Kremlin is closely watching the ongoing presidential campaign in France, with relations between the two countries expected to improve further, Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday.
“France is our partner, a country Russia maintains good relations with. The volume of our cooperation could grow further,” Peskov said, noting that relations between Fillon and Putin developed at a time when the latter was prime minister. “They have had quite intensive contacts, spent hours negotiating,” Peskov said.
“Indeed, they maintain good relations,” he concluded.
The French media’s take on Fillon “is not surprising,” writer and political analyst Eric Verhaeghe told RT, saying that it mainly supports Paris’ alliance with the US and French-German relations. “Yet in reality there is a large part of public opinion in France that not often speak out openly, but know that there can be no balance in Europe without a renewed and consistent alliance with Russia,” Verhaeghe said.
“The French elite previously didn’t feel the necessity to express its position on Francois Fillon as they didn’t think he would have had any chances to be elected. But now they see that he poses a real ‘threat’ [to their established relations with Washington and Berlin] and become interested in his program,” he added.