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French Political Parties and Russia: The Politics of Power and Influence

June 13, 2018

Marine Le Pen and Vladimir Putin, Moscow, March 2017. CREDIT: The Russian Presidential Press and Information Office

This paper is the third of a series of publications on Russia's influence in France. France constitutes the most prominent example of Russia's soft power in Western Europe, due not only to the long-lasting positive bilateral relations but also to the presence of an important Russian emigration since the 1920s that can act as a relay of influence. This project is supported by a grant from the Foundation Open Society Institute in cooperation with OSIFE of the Open Society Foundations.

In 2018, what relationship do French political parties have with the Russian Federation, its government, and its political parties, including but not limited to its most prominent party, United Russia? In recent years, this issue has often been discussed in relation to two preconceived notions. The first is that financial relationships are the primary—if not the only—explanation: anything "funded by Russia" is supposed to support Russia's positions, specifically the ideology of President Putin and United Russia. The second is that the goal of Russia's financial relationships with political personalities or entities is to meddle in France's internal affairs, either by influencing the electoral process or by spreading fake news and thereby shifting public opinion.

In this study, we propose a different approach. We begin from the standpoint that both Russia and France are major political, economic, and military powers. Both pursue strategies to secure power and influence. As such, they are obliged to have trade relations, to cooperate, and to engage in dialogue, even in the current strained international context. Despite the war in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2008, then the annexation of Crimea and the Donbas war in 2014, followed by then-President François Hollande's decision not to deliver Mistral warships to Russia, and finally President Macron's "cold shoulder" due to Russia's supposed interference in the French presidential campaign, the relationship has never broken down. The two states have an objective interest in forecasting the political situation in their countries, and—while cooperating with the current administrations—diversifying their political contacts as much as possible to ensure that any turnover or change in the government does not risk the loss of their contacts.

To read this paper in full, see the attached PDF.

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