Russia’s not-so-hot Euro-election subversion strategy is failing in France

Christopher Dickey writes: If Vladimir Putin’s keyboard commandos are hoping to hack up French presidential elections the way they did America’s, they are, well, a little off their game. And their more-than-willing tool, Julian Assange, the Australian anarchist who brought us WikiLeaks, appears to be getting a little antsy.

It’s been a week or so since Assange announced he had pirated cables and emails about the three most prominent candidates, but nobody in France paid much—or any—attention. The cables were old, had been well sifted in the past, and there were other much bigger, fresher, and sexier scandals emerging from more conventional sources.

So Russia’s state-subsidized news sites tried to give Assange a boost. Sputnik, straining to write something entertaining about such a non-story, cobbled together a piece on Feb. 2 from various Twitter feeds mocking those who suggested the latest WikiLeaks announcement was part of a Russian democracy-disrupting conspiracy like the alleged one that made U.S. President Donald Trump’s election resemble a bad serialized version of The Manchurian Candidate.

“WikiLeaks vs. French Presidential Hopefuls: Who is the real ‘Kremlin Agent’?” read the headline. The conclusion, of course, none of the above.

But in the days since, it’s begun to look more and more as if Assange, at least, wants rather desperately to sway the elections, which are now three months away, and he’s doing his best to focus his leaks on the candidates most likely to face far-right-wing populist nationalist Marine Le Pen in the final showdown for the French presidency. [Continue reading…]

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The man who could make Marine Le Pen president of France

Angelique Chrisafis writes: On the night of the US election, Florian Philippot, the closest adviser to the French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, was watching the results from his apartment on the Left Bank in Paris. Before dawn, when Donald Trump’s victory was not yet official but the liberal establishment was beginning to panic, he tweeted: “Their world is crumbling. Ours is being built.”

Around 8am, Philippot phoned Le Pen to discuss the good news. She was in a jubilant mood at the headquarters of her party – the nationalist, anti-immigration Front National – preparing to deliver a speech congratulating Trump. His victory, on promises of trade protectionism and the closing of borders, looked like a major boost to her presidential campaign. Meanwhile, a car arrived to take Philippot, the party’s vice-president, to the village of Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises, 250km from Paris, to lay a wreath at the tomb of France’s great postwar leader, General Charles de Gaulle.

Trump’s victory happened to coincide with the anniversary of the death of de Gaulle, who led the French resistance against Nazi Germany. Philippot idolises de Gaulle: his office, which adjoins Le Pen’s, is plastered with de Gaulle memorabilia – one of many things that sets him apart as an oddity in a party that has long regarded de Gaulle as a traitor for allowing the former French colony of Algeria its independence.

Philippot’s elite credentials should have been another strike against him within a party that proclaims its loathing of the establishment. A graduate of the exclusive Ecole Nationale d’Administration, which produces presidents and prime ministers, Philippot didn’t start out in the Front National in the traditional way – driving around the countryside sticking election posters to fences. Philippot is also gay, in a party whose co-founder Jean-Marie Le Pen once called homosexuality “a biological and social anomaly”. And yet, at 35, he has become the voice of the party, its media star, and the first to claim Trump’s victory as a sign of a new world order. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s relations with Putin warm unlike those with European leaders

The New York Times reports: President Trump began a new era of diplomacy with Russia on Saturday as he and President Vladimir V. Putin conducted an hourlong telephone call, and vowed to repair relations between the countries after nearly three years of conflict that threatened a new Cold War between East and West.

The two leaders discussed fighting terrorism and expanding economic ties, but barely mentioned the wedge that has been driven between Washington and Moscow since Russia annexed Crimea and sponsored a separatist war in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Still, although Mr. Trump had previously expressed a willingness to lift sanctions against Russia, the issue did not come up, according to officials on both sides.

The tone of the conversation was reported to be warm, indicating a drastic shift after relations had broken down between Mr. Putin and former President Barack Obama. “The positive call was a significant start to improving the relationship between the United States and Russia that is in need of repair,” the Trump administration said in a statement. “Both President Trump and President Putin are hopeful that after today’s call, the two sides can move quickly to tackle terrorism and other important issues of mutual concern.”

In its statement, the Kremlin said: “Donald Trump asked to convey a desire for happiness and prosperity for the Russian people, noting that the people in America relate with sympathy to Russia and its citizens.” Mr. Putin answered that Russians feel the same way about Americans, the statement said. Neither side mentioned the Russian hacking of the American election in their statements.

Over the past two days, Mr. Trump has also had a series of conversations with the United States’ traditional European allies, but those calls were seemingly not as congenial. After a meeting on Friday with Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain, in which she warned against removing sanctions on Russia, Mr. Trump had on Saturday what appeared to be a businesslike call with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, and a testier call with President François Hollande of France.

Mr. Hollande’s office said the French president pressed Mr. Trump not to lift sanctions against Russia and to respect the nuclear agreement with Iran. He asserted the importance of the Paris climate change pact, warned of the consequences of protectionism, and added that democratic values included welcoming refugees — all in reaction to Mr. Trump’s first week of policy moves. Mr. Hollande also emphasized the importance of NATO and the United Nations, both of which Mr. Trump has disparaged. [Continue reading…]

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Russia is targetting French, Dutch and German elections with fake news, EU task force warns

The Telegraph reports: Russia is seeking to influence the outcome of several key elections in European countries this year with fake news, a special task force set up by the European Union has warned.

The EU is reportedly allocating more funds to its East StratCom task force to counter the disinformation, amid fears Russia will target elections in France, Germany and the Netherlands

“There is an enormous, far-reaching, at least partly organized, disinformation campaign against the EU, its politicians and its principles,” a source close to the task force told Germany’s Spiegel magazine.

It is “highly likely” Russia will try to influence European elections “as it did in the US”, the source said.

The number one target is Angela Merkel, who has been subjected to a “bombardment” of fake news over her refugee policy and support for economic sanctions against Russia.

Disinformation is “part of state policy” and a “military tool” for the Kremlin”. [Continue reading…]

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Europe’s far-right leaders unite at dawn of the Trump era

Time reports: After a few weeks of reading online about Donald Trump’s transition to the presidency, Marco Kopping, a 36-year-old apprentice at a car-parts supplier near Frankfurt, decided to get involved in German politics. He had never sympathized with a political party before, let alone joined one. But in December he received his glossy membership card from Alternative for Germany (AfD), one of the far-right movements now riding the updraft from Trump’s ascent. What drove him, Kopping says, “was the feeling of a revolution.” He didn’t want to be left behind.

Across the European Union, politicians on the right-wing fringe have been invigorated by Trump’s victory, which has given them a chance to attract new supporters, build coalitions and argue that, despite the often-glaring differences between them, they are all part of a movement with seemingly unstoppable momentum.

The most striking proof yet of that movement came on Saturday in the cross-section of far-right populists who met for the first time, at the AfD’s invitation, at a convention in the German city of Koblenz. A day after Trump’s Inauguration, the stars of the European right drew a direct line between Trump’s success at the ballot box and their own looming electoral battles. [Continue reading…]

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Watch out, Europe. Germany is top of Russian hackers’ list

Natalie Nougayrède writes: One year ago in Berlin, Lisa F, a 13-year-old German-Russian girl, disappeared for 30 hours. When she returned to her parents, she claimed she had been kidnapped and raped by “Arab” men. This was a lie – as she later admitted. She had fallen out with her parents and invented the whole story. But that did little to stop the episode from becoming the centrepiece of a whirlwind Russian disinformation campaign aimed at destabilising Angela Merkel and German institutions.

Russian state media and pro-Russian websites in Germany immediately swirled with reports. Merkel was already under pressure for her open-door policy on refugees. Now German far-right groups and representatives of Germany’s ethnic Russian community held demonstrations. The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, described Lisa (a dual German-Russian citizen) as “our girl” and accused German authorities of a cover-up and “whitewashing reality to make it politically correct”.

A diplomatic spat ensued, with the German foreign minister accusing Russia of “political propaganda”. Berlin officials struggled to counter the Russian campaign. But Moscow’s overt meddling in Germany’s domestic politics seeped into the public consciousness – for a while, at least.

Fast-forward to January 2017. The fallout from the Trump-Russia dossier has now placed Vladimir Putin and his power structure at the centre of American politics. For Europeans, a question arises: what could this all mean for the old continent, as it approaches key elections? This year, voting will take place in France, the Netherlands and in Germany. Remembering the Lisa scandal is important, for it says something about what may lie ahead.

Now that Russia’s covert activities are being so intensely discussed in the US, it is high time Europe placed as much attention on what it might, in turn, be confronted with – and to prepare itself. [Continue reading…]

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At Paris meeting, major powers to warn Trump over Middle East peace

Reuters reports: Major powers will send a message to U.S. President-elect Donald Trump on Sunday that a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians is the only way forward, and warn that his plan to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem could derail peace efforts.

Some 70 countries, including key European and Arab states as well as the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, are due in Paris for a meeting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected as “futile” and “rigged”. Neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians will be represented.

But, just five days before Trump is sworn in, the conference provides a platform for countries to send a strong signal to the future American leader. [Continue reading…]

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In Paris, the world will try one more time to solve the Israel-Palestinian conflict

The Washington Post reports: Poor, belittled Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has pulled off a remarkable feat.

On Sunday, top diplomats from as many as 70 nations are gathering in Paris to show their support for the creation of a Palestinian state.

Abbas hasn’t won his people a sovereign nation. Not even close.

But with all the challenges facing the world, the international community has accepted the invitation of French President François Hollande to come together again and urge Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to hammer out a two-state solution to the decades-long conflict. [Continue reading…]

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France’s far right is wary of Trump, but head-over-heels for Putin

Christopher Dickey reports: Marine Le Pen, 48, who could very possibly be the next president of France, speaks positively but with a certain reserve about U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump. It’s the kind of hesitation one hears when someone talks about a potential ally or partner who might, just might, be crazy. Because Trump does give that impression in Europe and, whatever one might say about her, Le Pen does not.

So, for all the general approbation she’s expressed about Trump’s election, and all the nice things Trump counselor Stephen Bannon has said about her Front National party, and especially about her comely young niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen (“Europe’s New Rock Star of the Right,” as Breitbart headlined), according to Marine Le Pen, “nobody” in her party “has had relations … with Mr. Bannon or any other member of the provisional administration of Donald Trump.”

In fact, the mention of her niece and Bannon seemed to set Marine Le Pen off her stride. There are some figures in the Front National, she said, who have longstanding ties to a few Republican leaders, but not exactly to Trump. “Me, I… I …” she said, hesitating and calculating, “I think that these relations will deepen when I will have been elected president.”

So Trump, Bannon, and her niece seem to be points of some confusion for Marine Le Pen. But in an hour-long conference with the Anglo-American Press Association here which ignored almost entirely the likely opponents she will face in the French presidential elections next April, there were two figures she spoke about with perfect clarity: Hillary Clinton, who seems to represent everything she hates; and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who appears to be able to do no wrong. Indeed, she often seemed to be reciting Kremlin talking points. [Continue reading…]

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Je suis Cédric: French farmer on trial for smuggling migrants, defends fraternity

 

The New York Times reports: At times it was hard to know who was on trial, the smuggler or the state.

The defendant, Cédric Herrou, 37, a slightly built olive farmer, did not deny that for months he had illegally spirited dozens of migrants through the remote mountain valley where he lives. He would do it again, he suggested.

Instead, when asked by a judge, “Why do you do all this?” Mr. Herrou turned the tables and questioned the humanity of France’s practice of rounding up and turning back Africans entering illegally from Italy in search of work and a better life. It was “ignoble,” he said.

“There are people dying on the side of the road,” Mr. Herrou replied. “It’s not right. There are children who are not safe. It is enraging to see children, at 2 in the morning, completely dehydrated.

“I am a Frenchman,” Mr. Herrou declared.

The trial, which began on Wednesday, is no ordinary one. It has been substantially covered by the French news media for its rich symbolism and for the way it neatly sums up the ambiguity of France’s policy toward the unceasing flow of migrants into Europe and the quandary they present.

France, foremost among European nations, prides itself on enlightened humanitarianism, fraternity and solidarity. And yet, perhaps first among them, too, it is struggling to reconcile those values with the pressing realities of a smaller, more globalized world, including fear of terrorism.

The contradictions are being played out in courtrooms, in politics and in farmers’ fields, on the sidewalks of Paris and in train stations from the Côte d’Azur to the northern port of Calais, where the government demolished a giant migrant camp in the fall.

On the one hand, politicians in this year’s presidential election are competing to see who can take the toughest line on securing France’s borders. Most are promising a crackdown on migrants, with admission reserved for clear-cut cases of political persecution. Terrorist attacks, including the one last summer in Nice that killed 85 people, have exacerbated anti-migrant sentiment.

But in these remote mountain valleys, where Jews fleeing the Nazis and the Vichy collaborators found refuge during World War II, Mr. Herrou has become something of a folk hero by leading a kind of loosely knit underground railroad to smuggle migrants north, many destined for Britain or Germany. His work has won him admiration for his resistance to the state and his stand that it is simply right to help one’s fellow man, woman or child. [Continue reading…]

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Russia threatens to veto French draft resolution on UN observers in Aleppo

France 24 reports: Russia is prepared to use its veto to block a French-drafted resolution on sending UN observers to Aleppo to monitor evacuations and help protect civilians, Moscow’s envoy to the UN said Sunday, as evacuations resumed following a new deal.

Speaking to reporters in New York Sunday, Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin said Moscow would veto the French draft resolution, “because this is a disaster”. He did however say: “There could be another thing which could be adopted today by the Security Council, which would accomplish the same goals.”

Russia then circulated its own draft resolution calling on the UN to make “arrangements” to “monitor the condition of civilians remaining in Aleppo”. But it did not mention the deployment of observers, according to diplomats.

The UN Security Council was set to meet for closed-door consultations Sunday followed by a vote on the proposals.

France circulated a draft text late Friday stating that the council is “alarmed” by the worsening humanitarian crisis in Aleppo and by the fact that “tens of thousands of besieged Aleppo inhabitants” are in need of aid and evacuation.

Russia has vetoed six resolutions on Syria since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime began in March 2011. [Continue reading…]

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François Fillon and France’s lurch towards Russia

Manuel Lafont Rapnouil writes: François Fillon has just won the French conservative primaries by a huge margin. Now, he will be trying to capitalise on the momentum he has gained from his win to deliver the result he wants in the upcoming presidential election. And with his foreign policy option, this presidential vote will pose a formidable challenge to Europe’s unity. Fillon’s views on Russia, in particular, fly in the face of the current European consensus. But neither foreign policy nor Europe are at the centre of the campaign, and domestic issues are much more likely to prevail when French voters make their choice in the spring of next year.

Fillon, a former prime minister under Nicolas Sarkozy, made his position on Russia clear long before the primary campaign even began, and he has stuck to it ever since. He believes French policy has been too aligned with the US, whether on Ukraine or the Middle East – in spite of the countries’ significant differences in opinion on these issues. And that, with ISIS and Islamism being the top security priorities for France following the terror attacks since January 2015, an alliance with Vladimir Putin’s Russia is badly needed, even at the price of conflating ISIS and other terrorist groups with any other forces fighting against the Assad government.

Worryingly, he calls not only for the ‘re-establishment’ of a political dialogue with Russia – a dialogue that was actually never interrupted – but also for the EU to lift all sanctions against Russia, including those adopted as a consequence of the forceful and unlawful Russian annexation of Crimea.

The French public’s opinion on the Russia question differs from Fillon’s. The majority have no confidence in Vladimir Putin and support maintaining economic sanctions against Russia on the Ukraine issue. Fillon’s critics add that, rather ironically, his desired relationship with Russia mirrors the alleged alignment with the US that he has attacked so fervently.

If both Fillon and the Front National’s leader, Marine Le Pen, reach the second round of the presidential election, a rapprochement with Putin’s Russia will become the order of the day for French foreign policy. At the moment it seems that a majority of presidential candidates will run on a pro-Russia or at least anti-sanctions platform. [Continue reading…]

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A candidate rises on vows to control Islam and immigration. This time in France

The New York Times reports: A patriotic sea of supporters, waving red, white and blue flags, greeted the newly ascendant presidential hopeful François Fillon this week at a soulless conference center in this suburb of Lyon.

Mr. Fillon described radical Islam as a “totalitarianism like the Nazis” to the cheers of an enthusiastic crowd, adding that France would need Russia’s help to fight it. Catholics, Protestants and Jews “don’t denounce the values of the Republic,” he thundered — unlike the faithful of a certain other religion.

“We’ve got to reduce immigration to its strict minimum,” he said. “Our country is not a sum of communities, it is an identity!”

In a year when nativist politics have become the ticket to electoral victory, Mr. Fillon, 62, a dark-suited, stern-faced former prime minister has managed to successfully ride the same nationalist and xenophobic currents as that have pushed politicians in Britain and the United States to victory.

For months, Mr. Fillon polled third and even fourth among presidential contenders in France and was largely dismissed. But his defense of French values and identity has suddenly made him the front-runner as France’s right-center Republican Party prepares to vote Sunday in a runoff to choose its standard-bearer in the 2017 elections — and quite possibly the next president of France. [Continue reading…]

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Marine Le Pen says she and Donald Trump are building ‘a new world’

BuzzFeed reports: The far-right leader of the French National Front, Marine Le Pen, has hailed Donald Trump’s victory in the US election and claimed they are both part of a “new world” being built in the wake of Brexit.

Le Pen was interviewed on The Andrew Marr Show on Remembrance Sunday – a move which has angered critics of Le Pen’s right-wing nationalist politics and provoked protests outside the BBC studio.

The National Front leader said June’s Brexit vote and Trump’s victory had boosted her chances of winning the French election next year, saying the votes had “made possible what had previously been presented as impossible”.

Le Pen frequently echoed Trump by criticising worldwide “elites” and went on to predict the European Union would disintegrate if each member state were to hold a referendum on membership. [Continue reading…]

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After Trump win, parallel path is seen for Marine Le Pen of France’s far right

The New York Times reports: It was a moment of intense French patriotism on a sunny Friday, Armistice Day. A band blared “La Marseillaise,” the national anthem. Shouts of “Vive la France!” filled the chilly November air. And there, too, was Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front party, beaming.

Before Donald J. Trump’s presidential victory in the United States this week, Ms. Le Pen was considered a disruptive political force but far from a true threat to become president herself when France votes next spring. Not anymore.

Since Wednesday, French news outlets, along with Ms. Le Pen’s mainstream political rivals, have been repeating the same thing: It could happen here.

And Ms. Le Pen is not alone. From the Balkans to the Netherlands, politicians on the far right have greeted the election of Mr. Trump with unrestrained delight and as a radical reconfiguring of the political landscape — not just in the United States, but in Europe as well.

They are seeing it as a sign that their time has finally arrived, and that the politics of heightened nationalism, immigrant-bashing and anti-globalization have overturned the pro-globalization, pro-immigration consensus. [Continue reading…]

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