Disappointment in Russia as Kremlin Favorites Lag in French Race

(Bloomberg) -- Even as the Kremlin called the French presidential election results a matter for the voters, Russian lawmakers and state-run media didn’t hide their disappointment at Emmanuel Macron’s victory.

Macron won Sunday’s elections because voters were under pressure from the European Union and Germany, Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the International Affairs Committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament, wrote on Facebook. The centrist Macron, who’ll face far right National Front leader Marine Le Pen in a run-off, is the choice of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Putin’s most powerful critic in Europe, according to Alexey Pushkov, a senator from the ruling United Russia party, on his Twitter page.

“Everyone understands that European unity is at stake,” Oleg Morozov, a former senior Kremlin official who’s now a member of the international affairs committee in the upper house, said by phone. “All forces including the European Union will work for Macron to win” by mobilizing votes against the anti-euro Le Pen, he said.

Many Russian officials regard Macron as the candidate most hostile to their country’s interests, while President Vladimir Putin held Kremlin talks with Le Pen last month in an unprecedented meeting with a French presidential contender. She openly backs Putin’s 2014 annexation of Crimea that along with the covert Russian military intervention in eastern Ukraine prompted the EU to impose sanctions. Macron, a 39-year-old independent, supports the sanctions and has accused Russia of cyber-attacks against his campaign.

‘Bohemian’ Victory

Russian state-run First Channel TV reported on Monday that Macron celebrated with aides after his victory at a “bohemian restaurant” where “oysters and duck are on the menu,” while Le Pen positioned herself as the “candidate from the people.” Even as votes were being counted, Russian state TV presenter Dmitry Kiselyov argued on his flagship Sunday program that the entire French state machine was working against Macron’s rivals.

Putin initially backed Republican Francois Fillon, an early front-runner whose chances faded after a series of revelations about his private life and spending habits. Fillon, who finished in third place, said earlier this month that he’d “do anything” to lift the sanctions on Russia that “have only hurt French farmers.” A victory by Macron, a former economy minister and investment banker at Rothschild & Cie Banque, would make any quick rapprochement with Russia unlikely.

“It’s absolutely incorrect” and “quite primitive” to say that a Macron presidency would be bad for Russian-French relations, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call. It’s up to the French people to decide who’ll be their next president and Russia isn’t endorsing any candidate, while it’s ready for good relations with whomever shows a “positive” approach, he said.

The same Internet hackers who broke into the U.S. Democratic Party’s computers in 2016 have also attacked Macron’s party website, the French magazine L’Express reported Monday. The French state watchdog on cyber-hacking has been alerted about the activities of the Fancy Bear group, which is believed to be of Russian origin, it said.

Russia has never interfered in other countries’ elections and allegations of state-backed hacking are groundless, Peskov said. France’s cyber-security watchdog warned in March that the same groups that broke into the Democratic National Committee’s computers are “insidiously” seeking to influence French voters too, though it stopped short of accusing Russia directly.