Kremlin documents and interviews reveal Russia is increasing efforts to undermine French support for Ukraine, Washington Post reports. The goal is to weaken NATO resolve, similar to interference campaigns in Germany, according to WP. Sergei Kiriyenko, a Putin aide, has tasked Kremlin strategists with promoting discord in France through social media and political figures.
Propaganda messaging amplified includes: sanctions have damaged the French economy, arms supplies to Ukraine have left France vulnerable, Europe shouldn’t “pay for another country’s war.” Troll farms produce anti-Ukraine social media content to increase “fear of confrontation with Russia.”
The Kremlin aims to exploit political issues like rising living costs and far-right populism ahead of European Parliament elections. But resonance so far is limited as President Macron backs Ukraine.
Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, who helped bankroll Marine Le Pen’s presidential bid, lives with a senior Russian diplomat and works on “changing all the governments in Western Europe.” He plans a Moscow visit to propose a foundation advocating Ukraine cease-fire terms favoring Russia.
For part of the French establishment, the vision of France leading a grand Europe together with Moscow is “a dream which will never go away,” said Sylvie Kauffmann, editorial director at Le Monde and author of the recent book “Les Aveuglés,” or “The Blinded Ones,” about how France and Germany misread Putin in seeking to build close ties with him. “In this dream we are a big power and Russia is a big power and we are two big nuclear powers treating each other on an equal footing,” she said.
A Parliament inquiry focused Kremlin interference through figures like Schaffhauser and National Rally members: “Russia is conducting a long-term disinformation campaign in our country” aiming “to defend and promote Russian interests and to polarize our democratic society.”
The report says “Some elected officials have clearly maintained clandestine relationships with [Russian] intelligence services.” Schaffhauser meets a senior Russian intelligence officer and the foreign intelligence chief. He says recent US discord on Ukraine aid means “it is a good moment to find a solution” favoring Russia.
The Kremlin documents show Moscow thought France was vulnerable to turmoil, with polls indicating 30% retained a positive view of Russia – the second highest in Western Europe. Another poll showed 40% were inclined to distrust French media reporting on Ukraine. Later orders tasked strategists with increasing reluctance among the French public to financially support Ukraine’s war effort.
In June, after riots erupted over a police killing, pro-Russian accounts produced over 30% of social media commentary on the unrest, according to cybersecurity firm Alto Intelligence. Most accounts were aligned with far-right French politicians Le Pen and Éric Zemmour. Officials believe a Russian disinformation network was likely behind the attempted stoking of Jewish-Muslim tensions in Paris following the Israel-Gaza war.
France’s digital watchdog detected over 1,000 bots amplifying photos of Stars of David painted around Paris. It expressed “high confidence” the bots linked to Russian disinformation networks. Another network, Doppelgänger, had cloned the websites of Le Monde and the Foreign Ministry to produce fake content depicting Ukraine as a Nazi state.
The visibility of pro-Russian social media accounts is climbing in France, according to the director of the French Institute for International Relations. Far-right parties have seen rising approval ratings. Messaging about Russia-Ukraine war costs combined with the idea it is an American war and France should reassert itself as a great power and rebuild Russia ties is increasingly common on the French right.