France's far right leader blames EU for new 'cold war'
Europe-Russia relations are at their lowest ebb in decades after President Vladimir Putin's annexation of Crimea prompted the EU to impose sanctions on dozens of prominent Russian officials and lawmakers.
However Le Pen, along with other Eurosceptic leaders of the far left and nationalist right, believe the original fault lies with Brussels for offering closer ties with Ukraine, a move Russia opposes. "I am surprised a Cold War on Russia has been declared in the European Union," French National Front leader Le Pen said at a meeting with Sergei Naryshkin, speaker of the Russian parliament's lower house.
"It's not in line with traditional, friendly relations nor with the economic interests of our country or EU countries and harms future relations," Russian news agency Interfax quoted her as saying in its Russian-language service.
Her comments echo those of Austrian far-right leader Heinz-Christian Strache who has openly sided with Putin, condemning the EU sanctions as a farce. Le Pen's Dutch political partner Geert Wilders has also said the EU made the first mistake. The way Europe has handled the crisis over Ukraine could become an issue in the European Parliament elections in May. Opinion polls suggest right-wing nationalist parties will perform well. French polls show the National Front emerging as the leading French party in the European elections.
At the meeting with Le Pen, Naryshkin, who is one of the officials hit by the EU's asset freezes and travel bans, stressed the importance of Russia's ties with France, but said relations had been strained by "Russophobic, anti-Russia campaigns" instigated by several European countries.
More sanctions threatened
The United States and the EU, worried that Putin could seek to take control of parts of eastern and southern Ukraine, have warned they could impose broader sanctions affecting entire sectors of Russia's economy if he escalates the crisis.
Emboldened by the Kremlin's annexation of Crimea, pro-Russian groups in Ukraine's east have occupied public buildings in three cities, a move Kiev officials say Russian forces may use as a pretext to cross the border to protect the activists, though Moscow denies this.
Le Pen, a tough-talking former lawyer, said Ukraine's eastern regions should be allowed to choose greater independence from Kiev. "The idea of federalism would give regions the chance of broad autonomy, to determine their destiny independently," Interfax quoted her as saying. – Reuters