French people sacrifice their own interests to help Putin win the world?

Bryan MacDonald
Bryan MacDonald is an Irish journalist, who is based in Russia
© Charles Platiau
The Western media is attempting to reduce France's byzantine Presidential campaign to a contest of who is the most "pro-Russian." This fits a recent trend, which infantilizes political coverage.

If you’ve spent some time in France, you’ll know the the locals are generally an amiable bunch, especially over a few glasses of wine. Even more so if you have a smidgen of the language. Despite stereotypes, they also can be rather considerate and there’s many the lost tourist who hitched a lift or received an impromptu tour from a benevolent local.

Now, it appears that their remarquable générosité d’esprit extends to elections. According to a range of anglophone pundits this week, it appears the noble and cooperative French have decided to fix next year’s Presidential election to make Vladimir Putin happy.

That’s right, you're expected to swallow how French voters are sacrificing their own interests to help the Kremlin control the world. Because there is no other reason why they would choose the “pro-Russian” Francois Fillon to, almost certainly, take the nomination for the Republican Party instead of NATO loving “pro European” Alain Juppé. Or Nicholas Sarkozy - of Libyan War fame - who has already been eliminated from the contest.

Possible Reasons

Of course, it has absolutely nothing to do with Juppé’s 2004 criminal conviction for the abuse of public funds. Nor his warm feelings towards his mentor, Jacques Chirac, or his relatively soft stance on Islamism. If you live in the English language media bubble, these are superficial issues.

The same goes for Fillon’s likely challenger for the Élysée Palace, Marine Le Pen. Instead of properly analyzing why her platform appeals to growing numbers of French electors, she is presented as a caricature in the US and UK press. Le Pen’s complex personality is reduced to “crazy fascist who loves Putin and wants to deport all foreigners.”

And then there’s Fillon himself. A sort of French Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan, who is economically liberal and socially conservative. And most importantly, despite being a former Prime Minister, a figure considered as outside the inner circle of the Parisian elite. Mainly because he has resided in Le Mans all his life, eschewing the intrigues of the capital.

His statement that “we need a profound change and transformation of our country … I believe the majority of the French people want this,” has echoes of the Brexit campaign and Donald Trump’s recent manifesto in America. Which, instead of translating to “Fillon may be onto something” is being held up as “here comes another ‘trojan horse’ for Putin.”

Continental Contagion

It’s not only France, of course. Already this month, Moldova and Bulgaria have elected “pro-Russian” presidents, according to the western media. Never mind that Bulgaria’s Rumen Radek was literally a NATO general until very recently, his opposition to sanctions against Moscow was the only thing used to define him. Likewise for Igor Dodon, who was opposed by a “pro-EU” candidate perceived as representing a corrupt establishment which, earlier this year, stole a billion dollars from the country’s central bank.

A Bloomberg View column, published last Monday, typifies the kind of myopia at play here. Headlined ‘Vladimir Putin Is Winning the French Election,’ it simplifies the contest into how big a victory it will be for the Kremlin. It also encourages us to disregard polling, despite the fact that the final Le Monde survey before last Sunday’s Primary put ‘surprise winner’ Fillon ahead and clearly displayed the surge in support for his candidature.

So, let’s look at why Fillon has already seen off Sarkozy and will surely wave “au revoir” to Juppé this weekend too. It’s because France is broken. Youth unemployment is at 24 percent, which is over three times higher than in Germany, the country French people usually use as a touchstone.

Meanwhile, for those lucky enough to be working, wages have stagnated in recent years and prices are rising. Also, lets not forget that France has been under a state of emergency for over a year now. Indeed, Juppé, as it happens, favored extending those powers, further eroding the liberté which the nation once prided itself on.

Thus, Fillon seems like a ray of light in this smorgasbord of negativity. He promises to remove the restrictive 35-hour working week, slash benefits which discourage job seeking and cut 600,000 public service roles to fund tax concessions in the private sector. In other words, he proposes to take on the legendary French bureaucracy which has long been accused of grabbing an unfair share of the pot for itself.

Furthermore, Fillon promises a return to traditional values, opposing gay marriage, and suggests stripping French nationals involved in jihad of their citizenship. Putin has nothing to do with any of these platforms, although he might nod along to a few of them.

Reality Bites

For his part, the Russian President has described Fillon as a “decent man” and an “an ultimate professional.” These views are interesting when set side by side with his opinions on Le Pen, which are non-existent. You heard that correctly, despite practically every western news outlet trying to make it seem how Le Pen is “Russia’s candidate,” there is no record of Putin ever lavishing any sort of praise on the National Front leader. Nevertheless, Le Pen does continuously express her admiration for him.

All told, it’s fair to say that the Kremlin will welcome the way the French election has turned out, producing two front runners who support the Russian stance on Ukraine and Syria and wish to restore ties between Paris and Moscow. Equally it’s correct to deduce how Putin was glad to see the back of David Cameron in Britain and wouldn’t shed too many tears if Angela Merkel lost next year’s race for the German Chancellory. At the same time, there is a feeling in Russia - not universally shared, mind you - that Donald Trump is a man they can do business with.

However, while some of these changes in the western political dynamic might ultimately be advantageous for Moscow, it’s complete claptrap to suggest the Kremlin had a hand in them. In reality, it’s more correct to say that the peak of liberalism, whose adherents were ideologically hardline on Russia, has passed and a new epoch is beginning. One which looks poised to allow east-west relations to re-start from tabula rasa, with an absence of predetermined baggage. On the surface at least.

The reason for Fillon and Le Pen’s popularity is due to French domestic concerns. It has nothing to do with Russia. And the same goes for the rise of Trump, the UK’s new ‘Brexit’ era and the backlash against Merkel’s controversial migration polices.

While Putin may welcome parts of this new order, the idea that he some sort of puppet master, secretly manipulating the world, is insidious bombast, propagated by lazy hacks whose own time in the sun might also be receding into darkness.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.