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Macron's victory might be Putin's loss

Russia's President Vladimir Putin.
Mikhail Metzel | TASS | Getty Images
Russia's President Vladimir Putin.

The victory of Emmanuel Macron in the first round of the French presidential election could prove a loss for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Thomas Wright, fellow at the Brookings Institution, noted Sunday night that the centrist Macron was the only candidate with an anti-Putin stance.

Though President Putin has stated that Russia had no intention of influencing the French vote, most candidates were more Kremlin-friendly. Macron's runoff opponent, the far-right leader Marine Le Pen met with Putin a month before the first round of voting on March 24. Le Pen was the only candidate to do so.

"A Le Pen victory would mean a considerable shift in France's attitudes towards Putin given the National Front's strong links with Russian political and economic interests," Antonio Barroso, managing director at Teneo Intelligence, told CNBC via email.

Marine Le Pen has supported Russia's annexation of Crimea and as a result, she has opposed the European Union's sanctions on Russia. Furthermore, her party has borrowed money from Russian banks, after lenders in France refused loans due to the National Front's racist past.

According to the BBC, in 2014, the National Front took Russian loans worth 11 million euros ($ 11.94 million). One of these loans, of 9 million euros ($9.77 million) was lent by First Czech Russian Bank, which reportedly has links to the Kremlin.

Putin has also reportedly met with the centre-right presidential candidate Francois Fillon last year before the latter entered the presidential race. During the campaign, there were allegations that Fillon was paid $50,000 to arrange a meeting between a Lebanese billionaire and Vladimir Putin.

However, if Macron wins the runoff against Le Pen, it is unlikely that the Paris-Moscow relationship will become closer.

"If he wins, French policy towards Russia will remain relatively stable," Barroso added.

Georg Zachmann, senior fellow at the Brussels-based think tank Bruegel, told CNBC: "Emmanuel Macron is not considered a Russia hawk. But he is not ignoring the challenge arising from Russia."

In his program, Macron noted that Russia has returned to an aggressive foreign policy and called for the resuming of NATO-Russia dialogue. He also said that sanctions should be in place until Russia respects the Minsk agreement - which seeks peace in Ukraine.

"More importantly, Macron wants to strengthen the EU, which runs against the interest of the Kremlin to weaken it. All other candidates were openly against or at least less enthusiastic about the EU," Zachmann said.

"If Macron succeeds, the EU might continue to be able to defend its values on human rights and international law - even in times when the U.S. takes a more appeasing stance towards the Kremlin," he added.

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