In battle against Putinism, France is the new front

Putin apologist Marine Le Pen will face incumbent President Emmanuel Macron in the April 24.



April 12, 2022 - 3:38 PM

French President Emmanuel Macron. (Ludovic Marin/POOL/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

By invading Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin precipitated two wars. The first is a bloody military conflict in his neighboring country. The second is a wider struggle for hearts and minds across Europe. That political and psychological conflict is also going poorly for Mr. Putin, as governments and peoples from the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean have rejected both Russian aggression and the illiberal ideological agenda it ostensibly advances. And yet, there are weak spots: One is Hungary, whose notoriously Putin-friendly prime minister, Viktor Orban, won a fourth consecutive term in the national election on April 3. France, a far larger and more consequential pillar of both NATO and the European Union, looms as the next test case.

A Le Pen win would be a huge boost to Putin, symbolically and substantively. Le Pen’s long-standing hostility to NATO is well-known; she is promising to withdraw the French military from the alliance’s command structure.

Sunday’s presidential election produced a runoff, set for April 24, between incumbent centrist Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, the veteran populist, far-right politician whom Mr. Macron defeated by more than 30 percentage points in 2017. Polls show a much closer race this time: Mr. Macron, who finished first Sunday with 27.9 percent of the vote, has the lead by only a few percentage points over Ms. Le Pen, who polled at 23.2 percent.

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