Far-right RN candidates, former ‘observers’ at Russian elections, secure seats in French parliament

Several candidates from the French far-right National Rally Party (RN) did “election observation” missions in Russia. Nine far-right candidates, who served as “international election observers” in the Russian Federation or during the Russian referendum in the occupied territories of Ukraine, are now poised to secure seats in the National Assembly.

The delegation of ten French MEPs dispatched by Russia in the “observation mission” in July 2020 included RN party vice president Hélène Laporte, candidate Lot-et-Garonne (49,3% in the first round); MEP Virginie Joron, candidate in Bas-Rhin (21,2%); MEP Julie Lechanteux, candidate in Var (victory in the first round with 52,9%); and RN spokesman Jean-Lin Lacapelle, candidate in Loiret (43,37%), who was also an observer for the 2021 elections, TF1 has confirmed.

They had openly congratulated themselves on having attended the Russian vote as observers, even praising “a lesson in democracy” given to Europe by the Russians. This vote, as a reminder, authorized Russian dictator Vladimir Putin to remain president for two more terms.

Ten MEPs from the French RN party were among the sixty so-called international “experts” that Moscow brought to Russia in July 2020 to validate the referendum. They included party vice president Hélène Laporte (Lot-et-Garonne); Virginie Joron MEP (Bas-Rhin); Julie Lechanteux MEP (Var); and RN spokesman Jean-Lin Lacapelle (Loiret).

The RN delegation publicly praised the Russian referendum as “a lesson in democracy” (Hélène Laporte), a 77% pass rate “which went well” (Julie Lechanteux), “a historic event for the Russians, with a strong mobilization” (Virginie Joron), and “health and electoral rules respected,” in contrast to “fake news” (Jean-Lin Lacapelle).

Andréa Kotarac, a candidate in the Ain region and also the party’s spokesperson, conducted an election observation mission for the 2018 elections in the Donbass, which pro-Russians had organized. The international community, particularly the United Nations and the European Union, deemed the election, which Russia supported, illegal.

Kotarac was then a regional councillor for Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes from the LFI party, switching to the RN in 2019. This Frenchman of Serbian origin had attended the Yalta International Economic Forum in Crimea, a major annual meeting place for Russian soft power, attended by far-right pro-Russian politicians Thierry Mariani and Marion Maréchal.

Bruno Bilde MP, candidate in Pas-de-Calais (victory in the first round with 59,24%), and his mother, Dominique Bilde MEP, candidate in Meurthe-et-Moselle (43,7% in the first round), were respectively observers in Russia for the 2018 presidential election and the 2017 regional elections.

These missions to Russia were at the heart of Thierry Mariani‘s hearing before the Commission of Inquiry on Possible Foreign Interference. The European Parliament sanctioned the openly pro-Russian Mariani for his observation of several elections in the run-up to the war in 2021.

In 2018, three far-right candidates were observers of the Russian presidential election. Bruno Bilde, incumbent MP and candidate in Pas-de-Calais, was present in Russia, while Andréa Kotarac, candidate in Ain and at the time militant for LFI, was in the Donetsk region. In Crimea, we could find Jacques Myard, an LR candidate supported by the RN, in Yvelines.

During the full-scale invasion in 2022, when illegal Russian referendums took place in the four occupied Ukrainian territories (Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia), no RN candidate was present. However, we have previously identified several RN politicians who acted as ‘election observers’ under the auspices of Russia. We were able to confirm the involvement of at least nine RN politicians since 2017. Le Monde cited this number in their investigation into the RN party.

At that time, as reported by EUObserver, the European Parliament’s democracy support delegation “blacklisted” eight MEPs for participating in an ‘observation mission’ in the occupied Crimea in July 2020 to participate in the pro-Putin referendum and sanctioned three others on the grounds that they were guilty of “fake election observation trips.”

Five of the blacklisted MEPs are French members of the Rassemblement National, part of the European Parliament’s far-right Identity and Democracy group. The blacklist included Virginie Joron, Hervé Juvin, Jean-Lin Lacapelle, Thierry Mariani, and Philippe Olivier. 

Virginie Joron confirmed that she did travel to Crimea in July 2020 to “observe” the referendum on Russian constitutional reform, allowing Vladimir Putin in particular to remain in power until 2036. 

According to EUObserver, the MEPs from the ID group were asked by an advisory body to the Russian government. Official, sworn observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) were not invited by Russia.

In June, Cannes mayor David Lisnard denounced the far-right party’s links with Moscow, referring to its running candidates’ participation in Kremlin-orchestrated election observation missions. He made this statement as the RN party was regularly criticized for its links with Russia, notably because of Russian loans obtained in 2014 to finance its election campaigns or Marine Le Pen’s complacency towards Vladimir Putin (less displayed since Putin started an all-out war in Ukraine in 2022).

Earlier, an investigation published by Mediapart listed fifteen RN politicians who carried out electoral observation missions for Russia or high-level visits to Moscow or have been pillars of associations promoting Vladimir Putin’s regime.

The independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which Moscow has censored since 2022, later revealed the conditions under which the French elected representatives came, organized at the expense of an unknown sponsor.

The RN MEP Thierry Mariani declared, during a hearing at the National Assembly, that the observation mission in which he had taken part in 2020 “was at the invitation of the Russians and was paid for by the Russians.”

His assistant, Tamara Volokhova, a Franco-Russian who now works as a security advisor to the RN in the European Parliament, was also on the trip. A former Russian model, Volokhova, who has both French and Russian passports, was reported as an alleged Kremlin’s “agent of influence”. A leaked report from the DGSI, France’s intelligence service, that identified her as a suspected “agent of influence” working for the Russian government, Mediapart wrote.

These French politicians, despite their pro-Russian stance, far-right views, and participation in the Putin regime’s electoral farce to legitimize the elections, either win seats in the French parliament or stand a good chance of succeeding in the second round. Clearly, a major shift in voter attitudes is taking place in France, which promises considerable uncertainty for the coming years and may have implications not only for the country but also for the EU and international politics. 

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