French debate: Jordan Bardella criticized by his opponents over Ukraine stance

In France, heads of parties’ lists harshly criticized Jordan Bardella, the head of the French far-right National Rally Party’s list for the European elections, for his stance on Ukraine.

Jordan Bardella, who was leading in the polls, faced criticism from his rivals during the first televised debate for the European elections on Russia’s war in Ukraine. For instance, Macronist candidate Valérie Hayer referred to the RN’s “support” for Russia as “shameful”.

“You’re a foreign agent” and “shameful support for Russia”

“Foreign agent,”  party of “national laziness.” Far-right European election candidate Jordan Bardella was the target of his rivals’ first TV debate on Ukraine and Russia on April 5. The seven main candidates—Jordan Bardella (RN), Valérie Hayer (Renaissance), Raphaël Glucksmann (PS-Place publique), Manon Aubry (LFI), Marie Toussaint (Les Écologistes), François-Xavier Bellamy (LR), and Marion Maréchal (Reconquête!)—were invited to debate for two hours on the Grand Jury RTL-Le Figaro-M6-Paris Première.

Marie Toussaint challenged the head of the Rassemblement National list, who criticized French President Emmanuel Macron for wanting to “do away with France’s sovereignty” by advocating a European defense. “You’re a foreign agent,” she said. “When you have such a fascination for (Russian president) Vladimir Putin and for (Syrian president) Bashar al-Assad, you can’t come here and say you’re defending the French. It’s really a lie,”  stated the ecologist candidate, Marie Toussaint.

“You have never voted (in the European Parliament) in favor” of resolutions aimed at “freeing ourselves from Russian gas,”  Marie Toussaint further asserted. “It’s the pot calling the kettle black,”  added Valérie Hayer, while Jordan Bardella suggested that his rivals should “put their own house in order” because France is the “biggest importer of Russian gas” in the EU.

The presidential candidate called the RN’s “support” for Russia “shameful,”  pointing out that Jordan Bardella had “never supported (the European Parliament’s) condemnation of the imprisonment of Russian opponent” Alexei Navalny, who has since died in prison.

For his part, Raphaël Glucksmann pointed out that the far-right candidate had “voted against” the creation of a European defense fund. “You want us to talk about your interests with Georgia?” retorted the head of the RN list. But the PS candidate, who in the past advised the pro-Western former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili and was for this reason the target of disinformation campaigns, said he was “proud,”  while the FN (now RN), “led by Jean-Marie Le Pen, approved the invasion of Georgia” to be “on the side of the Georgians to fight against Vladimir Putin.” “You’re not a patriot; you’re serving an ideology,”  he told Bardella.

France Insoumise (leftist party) candidate Marion Aubry in turn criticized Jordan Bardella for having tabled “21 amendments in the space of five years” in the European Parliament. “You’re no longer the party with the national flame; you’re the party with the national laziness,” she concluded, playing on the slogans of the far right with wordplay.

The criticism persisted on social media, with many prominent French figures commenting on Bardella’s stance on Ukraine. Nathalie Loiseau, Member of the European Parliament and a spokesperson for the list Besoin d’Europe, wrote that the far-right Rassemblement National Party is taking the French for fools, pretending to support Ukraine. 

She reminded us that Marine Le Pen, the party leader, supported the annexation of Crimea by Russia, called the Ukrainian government after Maidan illegitimate, and asserted that there were Nazis among the ministers. “In Ukraine, there are Nazis in power,” she asserted, despite the TV host’s remark that people believe there are “notorious Nazis in her circle as well.”

“Jordan Bardella tells us with his customary aplomb that his party supports Ukraine. Marine Le Pen, however, has a different view of things. Indeed, authorities have banned her from entering Ukraine. “Is the RN treating the French as fools?”

Nathalie Loiseau, Member of European Parliament and spokesperson for the Besoin d’Europe list

Nicolas Tenzer, a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) and Chairman of the Center for Studies and Research on Political Decision (CERAP), a guest professor at the Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA, Sciences-Po), and France’s Institute for Advanced Studies on National Defence, reminded that Mariani went to the occupied Crimea and called for lifting sanctions from Russia.

“Jordan Bardella defends Ukraine so much that he put Mariani on his list; you know, the guy who went to occupied Crimea, wanted to lift sanctions against Moscow, and incidentally co-chairs the Franco-Russian Dialogue—Assad’s big buddy too. End of joke.”

Nicolas Tenzer, non-resident senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis

Mariani is the head of the French-Russian Dialogue Association, which has been openly pro-Kremlin. In 2014, Mariani visited the Russian-annexed Crimea and met with Russian president Putin. Mariani supported Russia’s annexation of Crimea and criticized Western sanctions on Russia. He participated as a fake observer in phony referendums in Ukrainian territories of Donbas and in the illegal Russian elections in the Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine.

In 2022, Mariani criticized Europe for weapons delivery to Ukraine, saying that without aid, Ukraine would be left defenseless, which would benefit Russia. He repeated the Russian propaganda narratives, including that Russia felt threatened by the expansion of NATO, to justify the war in Ukraine.

Obviously, Bardella and the National Rally are facing hard times, as the party that is currently leading the race is attracting the most attention from its rivals, and there is plenty to criticize the far right for. 

In the context of Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine and alleged war crimes, the party, which has traditionally had close ties to the Kremlin, is being criticized for supporting the annexation of Crimea, praising Putin, and having a lucrative loan from a Russian bank.

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