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Leader of the French far-right National Front (FN) party, Marine Le Pen, has said Russia's annexation of Crimea last year was a result of "major errors" committed by the European Union (EU), as she defended accepting a loan from a Russian bank last year.
Le Pen, who is widely expected to run for president in France in 2017, said the EU contributed to the crisis in Crimea, by legitimising Putin's takeover of the region.
"I believe that the annexation of Crimea was the result of the major errors committed by the EU. The EU contributed to the crisis in Crimea. The EU participated in legitimising a putsch which allowed the inhabitants of Crimea to in reality rejoin Russia, because Crimea is Russia as everyone knows. One should not see it otherwise," Le Pen told CNBC.
Last March, President Vladimir Putin signed a law formalising Russia's takeover of Crimea from Ukraine, despite protest and sanctions from the EU and the U.S.
Le Pen, who described herself as a "ferocious" opponent to the EU, blamed the union for failing to "assess its mistake" as she warned the 28-country group it was time to "come to terms" with its assessment of the Crimean situation, before making more mistakes.
The anti-immigration FN won the European elections in France last year with around 25 percent of the vote, and surveys suggest that Ms Le Pen could reach the second round in the "two-round system" used in France, in the 2017 presidential election.
The FN has also been under renewed scrutiny this month after reports suggested that the party had been given a multi-million euro loan from a Russian bank last year, in return for Le Pen's support for Russia's annexation of Crimea.
The sizeable loan from the First Czech Russian Bank was reportedly connected with Le Pen's recognition of the annexation of Crimea in March last year, a connection which she denies, instead suggesting that the party was unable to obtain a loan from a French bank.
"The fact is, we're forced to make a loan to those who accepted to give us this loan, because no French bank wanted to give us a loan and no European bank either wanted to do so. If you know of a bank that would be ready to give us this loan, we would be happy to sign it tomorrow morning," she said.
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