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Marine Le Pen promises French far right will rein in aid to Ukraine, slams soccer star Mbappé

<i>Francois Lo Presti/AFP/Getty Images via CNN Newsource</i><br/>
Francois Lo Presti/AFP/Getty Images via CNN Newsource

By Joseph Ataman, CNN

Paris (CNN) — As Ukraine bleeds territory to Russia, support from one of Kyiv’s strongest backers looks set to falter if the far right sweep to power in Sunday’s French parliamentary elections.

Marine Le Pen, figurehead of the French far-right National Rally (RN) party, vowed a prime minister from her party would prevent Kyiv using French-supplied long-range weapons to strike inside Russia and would stymie French President Emmanuel Macron’s suggestion he might put French boots on Ukrainian soil.

“If Emmanuel Macron wants to send troops to Ukraine and the prime minister is against it, then there are no troops sent to Ukraine,” she told CNN. “The prime minister has the final say.”

Marine Le Pen gave a wide-ranging interview to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday ahead of the second-round vote in France’s snap parliamentary election, called by Macron after National Rally’s stunning European election results in May.

She tore into the national soccer side’s star striker, Kylian Mbappé, refused to commit to immediately throwing out racist candidates in her party and signalled a stark shift in France’s level of support for Ukraine, if elected.

Presenting herself firmly as in the French political mainstream, three-time unsuccessful presidential candidate Le Pen struck a confident, combative figure, days away from perhaps the greatest political victory of her career.

With polls pointing towards the National Rally holding the biggest share of the 577 seats in the National Assembly come Monday morning, although potentially not achieving an absolute majority, Macron will likely offer them the chance to choose the country’s next prime minister. Le Pen’s youthful disciple and party leader Jordan Bardella has previously said he will only accept the premiership if National Rally wins by a large enough margin.

Even without an RN prime minister, any legislative action in the French parliament will have to navigate around a far-right center of gravity.

If there is an RN premiership, it would set up a tense “cohabitation” with Macron’s centrist presidency, especially over centerpiece policies like French support for Ukraine’s war against Russia.

Beyond blocking potential troop deployments to Ukraine – mooted by Macron as a way to boost military instructors’ efficiency – Le Pen told CNN that Kyiv’s permission to use French-supplied long-range missiles inside Russia would also be rescinded.

Macron was one of the first leaders publicly to allow Ukraine to strike targets inside Russia with Western weapons, setting the stage for Washington to do the same. This has allowed Kyiv to target Russian military bases, formations and artillery used to launch attacks into Ukraine.

Aside from troop deployments, Le Pen said her only “red line” on Ukraine was stopping France becoming a “co-belligerent” in the conflict via the use of long-range French missiles against targets on Russian soil. Most Western leaders currently do not consider that such supplies constitute co-belligerence with Ukraine.

Le Pen: Mbappé not representative

Le Pen directed most of her ire closer to home.

Speaking from her party’s seat in Paris, Le Pen lashed out at French soccer star Mbappé, who has made repeated comments in recent weeks seemingly haranguing the far right.

Undoubtedly the brightest star of French football today, he joined a host of celebrities this week in calling on voters to mobilize to keep the far-right from power.

“There’s an emergency. We can’t leave our country in the hands of these people,” Mbappé said Thursday, following National Rally’s strong first-round showing. “It’s really urgent. I think that we’ve seen the results, it’s catastrophic.”

Speaking last month, earlier in the Euros 2024 soccer tournament in Germany, the striker, whose family originally come from Algeria and Cameroon, stressed that he didn’t want to “represent a country” that didn’t embody his “values.”

Le Pen rejected his comments, dismissing him as unrepresentative.

“French people are fed up of being lectured and advised on how to vote,” Le Pen told CNN.

“Mbappé doesn’t represent French people with an immigration background, because there are far more of them living on the minimum wage, who can’t afford housing and can’t afford heating, than people like Mr. Mbappé,” she said.

Accusations of racism

If National Rally wins big enough in Sunday’s election, Le Pen can expect to see her loyal lieutenant Bardella installed as France’s prime minister. She will have unquestionably succeeded in bringing her party into the political mainstream.

Having won nearly a third of French votes cast in the European Parliament elections in May, Le Pen refused to be labelled as a “far-right” politician, which she said carries a stigma.

“It does not correspond to what we are. And not at all to what the far right is in the United States,” she claimed.

Le Pen’s party currently supports ending the automatic right to citizenship for people born to foreign parents in France and severely restricting citizenship by naturalization. Additionally, the party proposes restricting the rights of foreigners to access some social services, including housing, with preferential access given to French nationals.

The second pledge listed in National Rally’s manifesto is a law targeting Islamist ideologies, although it does not elaborate on how.

Le Pen fended off accusations of racism made against some of the hundreds of candidates her party fielded for the election.

“I think that in any political movement, there can be what we call ‘black sheep,’” she said.

One candidate, Florent de Kersauson, reposted a promotional picture showing a mixed-race child as “false Brittany,” another, Daniel Grenon, reportedly said North Africans have no place in “high places” in France during a recorded local debate, according to CNN affiliate BFMTV. Grenon has claimed this was an “erroneous” quotation.

“I’m not contesting the existence of these comments,” Le Pen said, referring to the accusations levelled against her candidates. She promised to see complaints tackled internally by the party’s conflicts commission but refused to have such candidates removed immediately from the ballot. “That’s not my vision of justice,” she said.

Ties with Russia

Cohabiting with the staunchly pro-European Emmanuel Macron will have its complications for the keenly anti-Brussels National Rally.

Top of the list of sensitivities is likely to be foreign policy, where Le Pen and Macron rarely see eye to eye. A far-right government would be welcome news for Russian President Vladimir Putin though.

Le Pen has landed in hot water in the past over Russia. She’s boasted of her admiration for Putin, refused to condemn Putin’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, and even took out a huge loan from a Russian bank.

Many held similar suspicions ahead of the election of hard-right culture warrior Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in 2022. But in office, she’s proved a team player in Europe’s support for Kyiv.

There’s no such absolution yet for Le Pen though.

On Wednesday, Russia’s foreign ministry posted a picture of Le Pen on X, stating that French voters are seeking “a break from the dictate of Washington and Brussels.”

Pressed on the post’s relevance, Le Pen’s answer may point to her following Meloni’s hard shoulder to Moscow.

“It’s a form of interference, and in that sense, I find it unacceptable,” Le Pen said of the post.

She’s broken many molds already in her time in politics; the weight of real political power for National Rally may change her further still.

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CNN’s Henry Hullah contributed to this report.

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