Russia accused of attempting to influence French election
Moscow has constantly rejected all allegations
The warning came from across the Atlantic last month.
Richard Burr, the head of the US Senate Intelligence Committee, was presiding over a briefing on the investigation into alleged Russian interference in the US presidential election when he offered his assessment of who the next target might be.
“I think it’s safe by everybody’s judgment that the Russians are actively involved in the French elections,” Burr told reporters. “Part of our responsibility is to educate the rest of the world.”
Burr’s warning came to fruition this week with the revelation that campaign staff for Emmanuel Macron, the favorite to become France’s next president, had been targeted by suspected Russian-linked hackers
The news did not come as a surprise to the Macron camp, or to experts who say Russia may be working behind the scenes to swing the result in favor of his opponent Marine Le Pen.
But while Russia has denied the hacking claims, fears of potential Kremlin interference now loom large over the election as voters prepare to head to the polls for the final round of voting next Sunday.
Why would Russia target France?
Russia says it has no preferred candidate in the French election, but it has good reasons to support Le Pen over Macron.
French election: Related content
Le Pen’s anti-Europe and anti-NATO stance are perfectly aligned with Russian interests, and she has consistently called for closer ties with President Vladimir Putin.
Le Pen has also expressed a desire to roll back European Union sanctions levied on Russia in the aftermath of the annexation of Crimea, which she has described as “unfair and silly.”
It is a stance which contrasts markedly with Macron, a pro-EU, pro-integration candidate who has said he would keep sanctions on Russia in place, if not add to them.
While Macron has run as an independent centrist, Le Pen has campaigned, until recently, as head of the far-right National Front. She’s faced criticism for the fact that her campaign was partly funded by a Russian bank. But she said she had no other choice, after French banks turned her down.
Eyebrows were raised when Le Pen traveled to Moscow for a meeting with Putin last month.
Putin stressed the “great importance” of closer French-Russian ties following the meeting. And although the Kremlin insists it is not playing favorites in the French election, Le Pen’s position on Russia is quite clear.
“Le Pen has been very open about her desire to have better relations with Russia – she’s an outspoken opponent of sanctions [against Russia], and she’s interested in taking France outside of NATO,” said Will Pomeranz at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.
“She has a very populist right-wing message that plays to Putin’s narratives – it undermines Western institutions.”
Hackers targeted Macron’s campaign in recent weeks using methods similar to the suspected Russian hacks in the US targeting the Democratic National Committee last year, according to a report by cybersecurity researchers.
Tokyo-based cybersecurity firm Trend Micro says it discovered four phony Web domain names that were very similar to the domain names of the Macron campaign – presumably to try to trick careless campaign workers into accidentally compromising their email accounts. For example, a fake domain called mail-en-marche.fr was set up on April 12. Macron’s party is En Marche!
Feike Hacquebord from Trend Micro told CNN he could not say whether the hackers were Russian. But the report pointed the finger at a group called Pawn Storm – also known as Fancy Bear – a cyberespionage organization that other experts say is based in Russia and was behind the US election-related hacks.
Macron’s digital campaign manager Mounir Mahjoubi confirmed there had been attempted hacks, but said they weren’t successful.
A French official told CNN that French intelligence services are warning campaigns to ta