There’s a curious painting on the wall in Marine Le Pen's headquarters in the chic 8th arrondissement in Paris. It shows the far-right candidate in the French presidential election with the Russian and US presidents on either side. On a black background, in the style of the Soviet era, Le Pen, Vladimir Putin, and Donald Trump gaze out to a common horizon. She got it as a gift from Russian nationalist activist Maria Katasonova, whom she met in Paris a few days after she met Putin in Moscow on 24 March.

Her meeting with Putin was a political masterstroke. It showcased her idea of putting France at the centre of a nationalist Washington-Paris-Moscow axis if she was elected. Putin used it to send a political message to Europe. The high-profile event at his Kremlin palace, held just one month before the first round of the French election on 23 April, was designed to show that he still backed her despite her party, the National Front’s (FN), failure to win anything in French regional elections in 2015.

Le Pen has also praised Trump, even if she had nothing nice to say about his missile strike in Syria on 6 April against Russia’s ally, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Her admiration of Putin goes back further and has been more constant, however. The surprise meeting on 24 March was said by Le Pen and by several media to be first of its kind. But in fact she already met him in 2014 and in 2015. Three high-level sources in the FN told the authors of this article that the meetings took place amid the utmost secrecy.

The FN founder, and her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, let the cat out of the bag in a recent BBC documentary. "I've never met him [Putin], but he's met Marine," he said in an interview conducted prior to 24 March. Her then-foreign affairs adviser and an FN MEP, Aymeric Chauprade, also told the French BFMTV channel in December 2014 that she […]