Le Pen visits Russia weeks before French presidential vote

AP News
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Posted: Mar 23, 2017 10:54 AM
Le Pen visits Russia weeks before French presidential vote

PARIS (AP) — French far right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen is headed to Moscow for meetings with lawmakers less than a month before the election, officials from her National Front party said Thursday.

Her visit Friday comes on the heels of a trip this week to Chad, base of a French military operation that's aimed at rooting out Islamic extremists from a swath of Africa. Le Pen is seeking to bolster her international credentials ahead of the two-round French election on April 23 and May 7.

The head of the Russian Duma's international affairs committee, Leonid Slutsky, was quoted by the Tass news agency as saying Le Pen will hold meetings on the "international agenda such as the war on terrorism."

Le Pen's trip comes at a time when U.S. lawmakers are investigating President Donald Trump's campaign links to Russia. Le Pen received a $9 million loan from a Russian bank in 2014 that raised concerns over Moscow's potential influence on her and her party.

Le Pen has made multiple visits to Russia, as have her father, niece and other members of the National Front, often meeting with Russian legislators. Moscow has courted far-right parties in Europe in an influence-building campaign as friction between Russia and the West has mounted over the conflict in Ukraine and the Syrian civil war.

National Front Treasurer Wallerand Saint Just said Le Pen's trip is not a cash-raising exercise, though party members have said they are seeking millions to fund both the presidential and the ensuing parliamentary election campaigns.

Current polls suggest Le Pen could win the first round of voting but would lose the second round to centrist Emmanuel Macron.

Le Pen has said she considers Crimea — annexed from Ukraine in 2014 — a part of Russia, and would cultivate closer ties with Russia if elected president rather than pressuring it over Putin's authoritarian policies.