Imprisoned Moscow critic Alexei Navalny has called on French voters to support president Emmanuel Macron this weekend as he warned of far-right opponent Marine Le Pen’s links to president Vladimir Putin.
The Russian opposition leader, lawyer, and anti-corruption activist’s comments came as centrist Macron and his far-right contender Le Pen prepare to meet on Wednesday evening in a face-to-face television debate that could prove decisive ahead of Sunday’s vote.
Despite Macron coming out on top of most recent opinion polls, Le Pen – an anti-immigration nationalist who has seen her popularity soar this year by drawing off public anger over inflation and wage stagnation – threatens to significantly narrow the gap in public support.
“I certainly without hesitation, urge the people of France to vote for Emmanuel Macron on April 24,” Mr Navalny tweeted, before accusing Le Pen of having received a €9 million loan from the First Czech-Russian Bank.
I added: “Believe me, this was not just a “shady deal”. This bank is Putin’s notorious money-laundering outfit. How would you like it if a French politician took a loan from Cosa Nostra? Well, this here is the same thing.
“I don’t doubt for a minute that negotiations with these people and deals with them included a shadowy political part as well. This is corruption. This is selling political influence to Putin.”
Mr Navalny said he was “utterly baffled” by European right-wing politicians who express sympathy for “Putin and his ‘conservatism’”, adding “Putin and his top brass are totally immoral and despise family values: second and third families and mistresses with yachts are the norm for them.
“These are hypocrites who used to put people in jail for owning a Bible, but bless themselves in temples now. They dismiss the middle class and treat the working man with contempt: in Russia, those who work are paupers.
He added: “Anyone who calls themselves a “conservative” and is sympathetic to Putin is actually just a hypocrite with no conscience.
In conclusion, Mr Navalny said: “Elections are always difficult. But you have to go to them to at least vote against someone.
“I won’t be able to wear a scarf in solidarity with the French on April 24 – it’s considered a ‘dress code offence’ here, they might put me in solitary confinement for that. But I will root for France, the French and Emmanuel Macron.”
In March, Mr Navalny, already serving a two-and-a-half year sentence for parole violations in a prison colony east of Moscow, was handed nine more years in a maximum security prison for supposedly embezzling funds to his Anti-Corruption Foundation – which had embarrassed Mr Putin with its investigations.
He survived a poisoning attempt on his life in 2020. Mr Navalny blames the Russian authorities for the attempt on his life. The Kremlin denies any role.
The hotly-anticipated debate between Macron and Le Pen, which starts at 8pm UK time on Wednesday night, will be the only one between the two candidates.
According to bookmakers, Macron has a more than 90 per cent chance of winning Sunday’s vote against his far-right challenger. However, Le Pen, who is at odds with Nato and has previously praised Vladimir Putin, still has a chance of victory.
It comes as the incumbent president saw his lead in the opinion polls creep up this week to an average of more than 55 per cent, while Le Pen trailed behind on 45 per cent.
The pair are currently battling it out to attract voters who backed far-left leader Jean Luc Melenchon after he came third in the first round, with about 22 per cent of the vote.
Melenchon has not given any specific voting instructions for the runoff but urged his followers not to vote for Le Pen.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.