Unlike in Germany, France's policy towards Russia in recent years has not yet been critically reassessed. The new chairman of the Rassemblement National (RN), Jordan Bardella, is now receiving all the more attention for his admission that he misjudged Putin's "expansionist drive". In the newspaper "L'Opinion" on Thursday, the 27-year-old party leader said: "There was a collective naivety regarding the intentions and ambitions of Vladimir Putin." When Emmanuel Macron decided to receive Putin at the Palace of Versailles immediately after his election in 2017, the public could not have imagined what the Kremlin ruler's intentions were towards Europe, Bardella said. It would be a "moral mistake not to admit this."

Michaela Wiegel

Political correspondent based in Paris.

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The RN chairman stated that "reality has knocked on our doors". Russia's aggression against Ukraine came as a surprise to many. Bardella clearly distanced himself from his party's previous pro-Russian course and spoke out in favour of supplying arms to Ukraine. However, care must be taken to ensure that France does not contribute to an escalation. Macron was right in his statement that Russia "must not be humiliated".

Shortly before the war began, Marine Le Pen had denied that Putin could have belligerent intentions. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, she hastily destroyed campaign brochures that she showed together with Putin. For a long time, the Russian head of state had been praised by Le Pen as the savior of Christian civilization. After the annexation of Crimea in violation of international law, her party allowed itself to be used in Kremlin propaganda and sent deputies to the referendum as "election observers". On the 5th anniversary of the annexation of Crimea, RN MP Thierry Mariani visited Crimea with a delegation and claimed that people were "happier" than before. "Crimea is Russian," the RN deputy said.

Le Pen for dinner with the Ukrainian Parliament Speaker

Le Pen also made her party financially dependent on Moscow. In 2014, it received a loan of nine million euros from the First Czech-Russian Bank. When it went bankrupt in 2016, the Russian arms company Aviazapchast took over the demand. The company is now on the EU sanctions list. "When you talk about Russia, you are talking about your backer," Emmanuel Macron told Le Pen in the only televised debate before the presidential election.

Bardella obviously wants to cut ties with Moscow. "Being a patriot means standing up to defending Ukraine's territorial integrity," he said. The Ukrainian nation existed "a little more every day." "To have denied this reality was perhaps one of the biggest mistakes of Vladimir Putin," the RN chief said. The MEP had risen to applause for the Ukrainian President in the EU Parliament when he recently gave a speech there. "The moral, political and material support of Ukraine is a matter of course for me. The Ukrainian cause has moved the entire European public. And this is perhaps what Vladimir Putin underestimated. We have a cultural proximity to Ukraine," Bardella said.

Marine Le Pen has also corrected her rejection of the Ukrainian leadership. When Ruslan Stefanchuk recently visited Paris, Le Pen also came to dinner with the Ukrainian Parliament Speaker at the Hôtel Lassay, the official palace of the President of the National Assembly. The RN parliamentary group leader is said to have initially triggered a certain "unease" among those present, reported the magazine "L'Obs". But then she politely contributed to the conversation over scallops and foie gras. She asked Stefanchuk about Russian gas supplies. At the end of the dinner, the Ukrainian received a chocolate Jack Russell Terrier, an allusion to a minesweeper who had been awarded by Zelenskyi.

Le Pen takes Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni as a model in her Russia policy. RN MP Sébastien Chénu said the goal was to take government responsibility. For this reason, contacts with the Ukrainian leadership must be established now. Not all RN MPs agree with this U-turn. MP Mariani continued to defend Putin's policies, claiming that Ukraine was interested in drawing Europe into the war.