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The Possibility Of Russia Meddling In France's Election


Let's turn to France now, where the big election is unfolding tomorrow and where a big question hanging over that election has been, what might Russia do? U.S. intelligence agencies say Russia interfered in last year's election here in the U.S. And they have been warning for months that Russia will try to repeat the effort in France.

On the line now from Paris is Nicolas Tenzer. He chairs a think tank, the Center for Research and Political Decisions, and he teaches international affairs at the prestigious university Sciences Po. And he's been tracking what Russia may or may not be up to. Hello, welcome.


KELLY: Let me start with a basic question. Has Russia meddled in France's presidential election? What do we know?

TENZER: Yes. I think the answer is definitely yes. The first thing, of course, we know that Russia probably - but we have a suspicion about that - is hacking some website, especially Macron campaign website. But only...

KELLY: This is the independent candidate, one of the four running.

TENZER: Yes, exactly. He's the independent, I will say, centrist candidate and liberal candidate, you know, advocating Europe and a strong stance against Russia, of course.

KELLY: Emmanual Macron. And so there would be, perhaps, a reason, if he is strongly advocating a strong Europe, that Russia might be interested in hacking his campaign.

TENZER: Exactly, exactly. But that's the third thing. The second thing is, of course, you have a lot of this fake news spreading it out, you know, in many social networks such as, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook.

KELLY: So if I hear you correctly, you're describing two possible tracks of Russian efforts.

TENZER: Yes, exactly. That's hacking, and that's fake news, basically.

KELLY: What is the evidence of Russia's hand at work?

TENZER: When it comes to hacking, we have absolutely no evidence for technical reasons.

KELLY: No evidence?

TENZER: No, we don't have. We don't have. It's very difficult to prove that, you know, someone, which is located I don't know where, is hacking a website. That's very, very complicated.

KELLY: If Russia is messing with this election in France, would the point of that be just to sow doubt, discord, disrupt the vote? Or is there any evidence of trying to tip this to a specific candidate?

TENZER: Well, I think that Russia would win in a way if one of three candidates is elected - I mean, Marie Le Pen, Francois Fillon or Jean-Luc Melenchon - because those three candidates are - when it comes to Marine Le Pen, really trying to go out of the EU, to leave the eurozone. She will lift, of course, the sanctions on Russia. She will - she already said that Crimea belongs to Russia and this sort of thing. And she is very friendly to Assad, et cetera.

When it comes to the conservative Francois Fillon, Francois Fillon is a very close friend to Putin. He was invited, you know, in Putin's private Dacha.

KELLY: So a warm personal relationship there between Fillon, Putin?

TENZER: Yes, personal relationship. But also, you know, he fully embraces Russia's propaganda. It's just, you know, not only cozying up to Putin, but that's also exactly the same stance, the same narrative.

And when it comes to Melenchon, I mean, the radical left candidate - exactly the same because Melenchon said many times that we don't have to create a Europe defense. We have to leave NATO, et cetera. So it's also a win for Putin.

KELLY: So it sounds like the Kremlin motto for this upcoming election in France might be anyone but Macron

TENZER: Yes, anyone but Macron, exactly.

KELLY: That's political scientist Nicolas Tenzer speaking to us from Paris about the role Russia may or may not be playing in tomorrow's vote there. Nicolas Tenzer, thank you. Merci bien.

TENZER: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.