Le Pen also traveled to Russia last month to meet with Putin and a photograph of the meeting was released to the press from the Kremlin. She has gone to Russia several times to meet with members of the legislature.
“We don’t want to influence in any way the events going on [in France], but reserve our right to communicate with all representatives of the country’s political powers, as our partners do in Europe and in the U.S.,” Russia’s spokesperson told journalists at a press conference following the meeting between the two leaders.
Le Pen touts pro-Russian policies, including her opposition to NATO, a retreat from the European Union and support of Russian intervention in Syria.
But Le Pen is not the only candidate to express similar, pro-Russian views. Far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon and center-right candidate Francois Fillon are skeptical of EU sanctions against Moscow and have supported the Russian intervention in Syria.
The only outlier among the leading contenders is centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, who says the European Union should stand firm against Russia and its interference in the election process.
In February, Macron’s campaign manager said they were targets of concerted Russian attacks and accused Russia of trying to influence the outcome of the May election.
“There are hundreds if not thousands of attacks on our computer system, our database and our sites, and by chance this happens to come from the Russian border,” Ferrand, a Socialist MP, told France 2 TV. “We want a strong Europe. That’s why we are suffering from attacks from several information sites belonging to the Russian state.”
“We will not accept any interference whatsoever in our electoral process, whether by Russia or any other state,” said Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.
“After what happened in the United States, it is our responsibility to take all steps necessary to ensure that the integrity of our democratic process is fully respected,” he told parliament.
The Kremlin denied claims that Russian hackers have been targeting Macron.
And at least one influential French intelligence expert, however, doesn’t think that Russian is interfering in the elections. Eric Denece, director and founder of the French Center of Intelligence Research, said that “there is no serious proof” that Russia is behind the hack into Macron’s campaign and pointed to potential U.S. involvement in any effort to destabilize the election.
Hacking threats during the French election is not new. In 2012, the U.S. hacked into the computers of several senior French officials at president Nicolas Sarkozy’s office days before the second round of the elections.
“CIA or people in intelligence are absolutely capable of carrying out a cyber-hack as if it is Russian,” Denece told NBC News.
But American intelligence experts say that Putin has a long history of working to influence electoral outcomes dating back decades, including Soviet efforts to destabilize European politics in the 1980s.