French President Emmanuel Macron rolled out the red carpet for Russia’s Vladimir Putin on Monday, but past suspicions of Russian meddling in the French election resurfaced with Macron denouncing Russian media and Putin denying hacking allegations.
The newly-elected Macron hosted Putin at the sumptuous 17th-century palace of Versailles outside Paris for his first meeting with the Kremlin leader which he had earlier said would be marked by some straight talking.
The 39-year-old French leader and Putin exchanged a cordial, businesslike handshake and smiles when the latter stepped from his limousine, with Macron appearing to say “welcome” to him in French.
When they emerged from talks, which went on for almost an hour longer than scheduled, Macron said they had had a “frank exchange” and both men stressed they had agreed on the need to move forward on divisive issues such as Syria and Ukraine.
But at a joint news conference after their talks, ill-feeling came to the surface over past allegations made by Macron’s camp that state-funded Russian news outlets had sought to destabilise his campaign.
With Putin alongside him, Macron repeated the accusation in a reply to a journalist’s question, saying: “During the campaign, Russia Today and Sputnik were agents of influence which on several occasions spread the fake news about me personally and my campaign.
“They behaved like organs of influence, of propaganda and of lying propaganda,” he said.
During the campaign, which climaxed with Macron’s election on May 7, Macron’s camp irritated the Kremlin by saying its campaign’s networks, databases and sites had come under attack from locations inside Russia.
When his camp barred journalists from the two Russian outlets from Macron’s headquarters, a Russian foreign ministry spokesperson denounced the move as “outrageous … barefaced discrimination”.
The Kremlin and RT itself have rejected allegations of meddling in the election.
Putin did not react to Macron’s comments about the Russian media, but he bristled when a journalist suggested that Moscow’s hand was behind cyber attacks on the Macron campaign. These hacking allegations, he said, were not based on facts.
The Kremlin appeared to favour Macron’s far-right opponent Marine Le Pen for the presidency during the campaign — a view reinforced when Putin granted her an audience a month before the election’s first round.
This did not indicate an attempt to influence the outcome of the election, though, Putin said.
“We are ready to receive any person, always. If Madame Le Pen asked to meet us, why would we want to refuse her? The more so since she always publicly spoke out for developing relations with our country. It would be strange for us to refuse her,” he said.