As voters in France prepare for their presidential election Sunday, U.S. officials are warning of Russian interference in the hotly contested race, saying that the tactics being used are similar to those deployed in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The warnings come as congressional investigators and intelligence agencies continue to look at Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and any role Donald Trump's campaign played in Russian interference.
Specific concerns are being raised about the dissemination of false news stories, allegations of computer hacking against a leading candidate opposed by the Kremlin and slanted coverage of the French elections by Russian news agencies.
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"I think it's safe to say by everybody's judgment that the Russians are actively involved in the French elections," said Sen. Richard Burr, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Burr's committee is currently investigating Russian interference into the U.S. elections and potential collusion between Donald Trump's campaign and Putin allies in Russia.
Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on that committee, who receives the same classified intelligence briefings, said at recent Senate hearing: "French presidential candidates right now have been the subject of Russia propaganda and disinformation."
Voters this weekend will vote on eleven candidates in the first round of the election, with the top two vote-getters advancing to the second round on May 7. Russian president Vladimir Putin has expressed support for right-wing nationalist Marine Le Penn and Americans familiar with the intelligence around the election say that the Kremlin is both overtly and covertly working to ensure their preferred candidate wins.
U.S. Congressional investigators have warned of Russian involvement in France. While they have not provided specific evidence, they've pointed to tactics U.S. intelligence officials have said were used in the U.S. elections — including the dissemination of fake news, social media bots that spread misinformation and the hacking and release of information of political entities, including the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign.
Le Pen's proposed policies align closely with Russia's values and geopolitical goals. Her party, the National Front, received a loan from a Russian bank, First Czech Russian Bank, which is owned by a Putin confidant, to fund Le Pen's campaign. She said she was unable to obtain a loan of 9 million Euros from western banks.