At the time it probably felt like a good idea for Marine Le Pen’s campaign team. A photo of her shaking hands with Vladimir Putin, taken when she met the Russian president in Moscow in 2017, would emphasise to the electorate that she was a serious player on the world stage.
The photo was included in Le Pen’s campaign manifesto, over one million of which have been distributed the length and breadth of France. Now they are being hastily withdrawn by party members as Le Pen does her best to distance herself from the most despised man in the West.
Le Pen is not the only presidential candidate to have been embarrassed by events in Ukraine. Eric Zemmour, her right-wing rival, had started to see his campaign gather some momentum last month but he has now fallen back in the polls, losing three points in a week. ‘I dream of a French Putin,’ he gushed in 2018, in a clip that has been doing the rounds in recent days. He probably doesn’t now.
Zemmour must also be rueing his stance on immigration – end it all, legal and illegal – given the desperate plight of Ukrainian women and children fleeing the fighting. Would he be so callous to deny them sanctuary?
Then there’s Valérie Pécresse of the centre-right Republicans. At a rally last weekend she tore into Le Pen and Zemmour for their warm words in the past about Putin. She on the other hand must regret stating last year that she modelled herself to a large degree on Angela Merkel. That was when the German Chancellor was regarded by the world’s liberal elite as ‘a safe pair of hands’. How times have changed. As Iain Martin comments, Merkel’s legacy ‘is in ruins’.
Emmanuel Macron has not taken a hit in the polls despite the failure of his dialogue with Putin.