PARIS (AP) — The capital of France may be thousands of kilometers away from the battlefields of eastern Ukraine, but what happens in French voting stations this month could have repercussions there.
Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has close ties to Russia and wants to weaken the EU and NATO, which could undercut Western efforts to stop the war in Ukraine. Le Pen is trying to unseat centrist President Emmanuel Macron, who has a slim lead in polls ahead of France’s April 24 runoff election.
Here are some of the ways the election could impact the conflict:
Macron’s government has sent 100 million euros worth of weaponry to Ukraine in recent weeks and said Wednesday it will send more as part of a Western military aid effort. France has been a major source of military support for Ukraine since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and supported separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine.
Le Pen expressed reservations Wednesday about supplying Ukraine with additional arms. She said that as president, she would continue defense and intelligence aid but would be “prudent” about sending weapons because she thinks the shipments could suck other countries into the conflict with Russia.
Le Pen’s campaign has successfully tapped into voter frustration over inflation, which has worsened as a consequence of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine and the ensuing sanctions against Russia, a major gas supplier and trade partner for France and Europe.
The European Union has been unusually unified in agreeing on five rounds of ever-tougher sanctions. As president, Le Pen could try to thwart or limit additional EU sanctions since further action requires unananimous backing from the bloc’s 27 member nations.
France is the EU’s No. 2 economy and key to EU decision-making, and currently holds the rotating EU presidency, giving France’s next leader significant influence in such decision.
Le Pen is notably opposed to sanctions on Russian gas and oil. She also said in the past that she would work to lift sanctions imposed on Russia over its annexation of Crimea, and recognize Crimea as part of Russia.