French President Emmanuel Macron attacked his far-right rival Marine Le Pen for her links to Russia during a televised presidential debate on Wednesday, accusing her of being “dependent” on the Kremlin.
“You are dependent on the Russian government and you are dependent on Mr Putin,” Macron said, referring to a loan agreed by Le Pen’s party with a Czech-Russian bank which he said was “close to the Russian government”.
Le Pen replied that she was “an absolutely and totally free woman” and said the loan was a “matter of public knowledge”.
“It was because no French bank wanted to give me a loan,” she replied.
The exchange was the first major clash between the two, with Macron also highlighting Le Pen’s decision to recognise Crimea as Russian after the Ukrainian territory was annexed by the Kremlin in 2014.
“Under international law we rarely recognise… territories that have been annexed by force,” he said.
Le Pen stressed that she was in favour of all the sanctions against Moscow announced since Russian leader Vladimir Putin ordered an invasion of Ukraine on February 24, and she backed supplying arms to Ukraine.
“The aggression that Ukraine has been victim of was unacceptable,” she said.
Le Pen created waves last week when she proposed closer ties between Western military alliance NATO and Russia once the war in Ukraine was over.
She also reaffirmed her intention of repeating France’s 1966 move of leaving NATO’s integrated military command, while still adhering to its key article 5 on mutual protection.