The recent leak of data from the hacked emails of Putin’s henchman Alexander Babakov shed light on the Kremlin’s efforts to promote its interests in France and its ties to French politicians, primarily Marine Le Pen.
Since 2012, Alexandr Babakov has been Vladimir Putin’s “special representative” in charge of relations with Russian organisations abroad, making him one of the key men in the Kremlin’s networks of influence in Europe.
According to Babakov’s correspondence, it turns out that he was responsible for organising visits by French politicians and negotiations with high-ranking Russian officials. Babakov was the key man in the talks between Le Pen’s National Front and the Kremlin on the Russian loan to the French far-right party in 2014.
This information became known in 2017 in the journalistic investigation by the French media Mediapart.fr. And now, leaked Babakov emails have added more exciting details and the hot link between Le Pen and Babakov himself.
Le Pen asked Babakov to arrange a meeting with Russian spy chief
In her letter, seen in the leaked emails, the French far-right leader Marine Le Pen is writing to Mr Babakov asking for assistance. Le Pen, as a member of the European Parliament, requests a meeting with Sergei Naryshkin – one of Putin’s closest allies, current Russian spy chief.
“Dear Alexander Mikhailovich,
Please find enclosed a copy of the letter sent on 25 March 2015 by Mr Jean-Luc Schaffhauser and my colleague Ludovic de Danne to Mr Sergei Naryshkin, Chairman of the State Duma, requesting a meeting with him on my behalf. I would like to ask you, dear Alexander Mikhailovich, to help us, as you did last time, to organise this meeting and any others that you deem helpful. I would like once again to express my sympathy and warm friendship for everything you are doing for us and to thank you in advance for your invaluable help.
Marine Le Pen“.
Serguei Naryshkin has been the director of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service since 2016. Previously, he was Chairman of the State Duma (2011–2016) and Kremlin Chief of Staff. He was also chairman of the Historical Truth Commission (a Propaganda institution tasked to twist history in the books to please the regime).
Naryshkin studied at the Moscow Higher School of the KGB for two years in the French section. He was sanctioned by the US and the UK in 2014 concerning the Crimea annexation by Moscow and the Russo-Ukrainian War. Apparently, Marine Le Pen had topics to discuss with Naryshkin.
Babakov arranged for Le Pen and Schaffhauser meetings with top Kremlin officials.
Aleksandr Babakov arranged a meeting for Le Pen with senior Kremlin officials and with Putin. Moreover, he sent Marine Le Pen an official letter of invitation.
“Dear Mrs Le Pen,
I would like to invite you and MEP Jean-Luc Schaffhauser to visit Moscow from 24 to 26 May for meetings and talks.
As reported by Mediapart, Marine Le Pen is said to have met Alexander Babakov during a confidential trip to Russia in February 2014, during discussions for the first Russian loan. Babakov’s background is more that of an oligarch close to the Kremlin who juggles several hats, mixing international politics and business.
Babakov has overseen the Kremlin’s schemes and networks to spread Russian political and cultural influence in Europe, particularly France.
Babakov regularly discussed ties with Le Pen in his emails as he saw that through Le Pen, Moscow could promote its political agenda in France and on the European stage, mainly regarding the annexation of Ukrainian territories.
Babakov was receiving reports from the Department for Work with Compatriots Abroad of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, and they were discussing the situation in France.
“The current situation in the international arena, on the one hand, demonstrates clear anti-Russian actions on the part of the leadership of several foreign countries, and on the other hand, many prominent political, public figures and representatives of the business community disagree with this position. Leaders of structures loyal to Russia have repeatedly expressed their wishes to strengthen and expand cooperation in the face of continuing sanctions pressure. For example, on 26 May this year, during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Marine Le Pen, chairwoman of the National Front party, proposed to the Russian leadership to form an appropriate group of representatives of authoritative political and public circles. Relations with our sympathisers are often informal, personal and sensitive, necessitating avoiding standard state interaction mechanisms, including diplomatic ones.”
Russia paid Paris-Moscow trip for French far-right politician Jean-Luc Schaffhauser
Unsurprisingly, the Kremlin paid the tickets for the trips from Paris to Moscow for French politicians from the far-right National Front, namely MEP Jean-Luc Schaffhauser.
Anna Kucherevskaya, a counsellor of the International Cooperation Department of the State Duma Staff, sent a letter to Vadim Konovalov, Deputy of the State Duma, about the payment of “a plane ticket to a Frenchman” by the Russian side.
“Dear Vadim Viktorovich,
In accordance with the agreement, I am sending you the invoice given to you by Marine Le Pen’s adviser on international affairs, MEP E. Chauprade, to pay for his Paris-Moscow-Paris air ticket. He also left the telephone number of his Russian-speaking assistant, Tamara Volokhova, in case of any questions.
An aide to Chauprade, Tamara Volokhova, sent Mr Babakov invoices to pay for tickets for a Paris-Moscow-Paris flight for the French guest.
Tamara Volokhova also received confirmation from Babakov that the funds for the tickets for the French guests had been transferred. In addition, Babakov received the bank details of the National Front, but there needed to be more information on the transfer of funds to this account in Babakov’s email.
Babakov’s links with French journalists to spread Russian influence in France
To highlight pro-Russian views and French far-right-Moscow ties, there were not only Russia Today and Sputnik but also very loyal French journalists. And there is some evidence in Babakov’s emails.
At least, there are interview requests from Raphaël Tresanini, the Canal+ journalist. In his letter, the journalist writes that the loan the Russian bank gave Marine Le Pen’s party intended to “support traditional values of France“.
“Dear Alexander Mikhailovich,
Please participate in a special Canal+ project, broadcast every Monday in France. It is an hour-long documentary film about the foreign policy of the National Front. Recently, the position of Marine Le Pen’s party has been significantly strengthened, thanks to Russian business’s tangible support. In particular, the First Czech-Russian Bank allocated a large loan to support the traditional values of France. We know that the National Front owes much of this loan to you. We would like to discuss the prospects of Russian-French cooperation and its importance for you. We will be in Moscow at the beginning of March and are ready to record an interview with you at any time convenient for you. We will be very grateful for your reply.
Sincerely, Raphaël Tresanini.”
We couldn’t find any story featuring Babakov on Canal+. However, Babakov’s hacked emails uncovered his efforts to take control of the media in Europe to spread Kremlin’s propaganda and strengthen Russian influence.
Babakov gave Le Pen a hand to arrange a meeting with Putin and get Russian loan
Marine Le Pen met Russian dictator Vladimir Putin in March 2017 in Moscow. Putin claimed he was not seeking to influence French presidential elections but met Le Pen as she represents a “fast-growing element” in European politics.
Marine Le Pen called for lifting EU sanctions against Russia, arguing they are “counterproductive”. She also stated that the Russian annexation of Crimea was not illegal. These statements go along Russian propaganda and Moscow’s interests while contradicting international law. These declarations helped the Kremlin to legitimise the unlawful annexation of Crimea in the political discourse on the international stage.
As the emails show and a previous Mediapart investigation proved, Marine Le Pen’s Russian funding was organised around Alexander Babakov, Putin’s adviser and special representative of the president for cooperation with organisations of compatriots abroad. Emails showed political interference by two Russian lobbyists.
Schaffhauser and Babakov: a perfect match to arrange funding for the French far-right
The National Front received a loan from the First Czech-Russian Bank in September 2014. According to information obtained by Re:Baltica and Mediapart.fr, Marine Le Pen received €9 million from a Russian bank in exchange for supporting Russia’s policy towards Ukraine.
Behind the scenes of the National Front’s Russian loans, a network was set up with its intermediaries and opaque structures to help Marine Le Pen’s party obtain millions of dollars and conceal the origin of these funds. Underlying this scenario is the decisive role played by Alexander Babakov, in charge of relations with Russian “patriotic” organisations abroad.
Babakov and those close to him, between 2014 and 2016, put the National Front in contact with three Russian banks with dubious profiles during meetings in Paris and Geneva. According to Mediapart, in 2014, Jean-Luc Schaffhauser and Alexander Babakov acted as intermediaries in obtaining a loan from the First Czech-Russian Bank for the National Front.
On the French side, the operations were supervised by Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, an MEP and Marine Le Pen’s campaign team member, as seen in Babakov’s emails. His foundation received funds from the British Virgin Islands via a company in Luxembourg.
According to Mediapart, the French financial prosecutor’s office launched a preliminary investigation into Schaffhauser in February 2016 after receiving information from the French Ministry of Finance’s anti-money laundering unit, Tracfin. Law enforcement agencies are trying to establish the origin of Schaffhauser’s funds. In 2014, he publicly admitted receiving a €140,000 fee from the HRHF for his intermediary services.
But the case also has a solid political dimension: several exchanges of emails revealed that Russian intermediaries advised Jean-Luc Schaffhauser in several of his speeches at the European Parliament, thus showing the pro-Putin influence behind the National Front’s Russian funding.
According to Mediapart, on 17 March 2016, Schaffhauser and Babakov met in Geneva to discuss further plans for the National Front to obtain loans from other Russian banks. Mediapart cites a fragment of Schaffhauser’s email from July 2014, two months before the loan was received, in which he wrote that “Marine is ready to send a statement to Reuters” on the situation in Ukraine. The recipient of the letter was Alexander Vorobyov, who, according to the newspaper, also obtained the money from the Russian bank. Vorobyov offered the MEP an example of a statement on the situation in Ukraine that Le Pen was to make. According to the newspaper, Le Pen did not send this statement later.
Babakov’s patriotism and ties with France have various dimensions. As revealed by French media, he owns property in France – a château 37 km from Versailles and a flat in Paris – registered for his wife and children.
Schaffhauser is a perfect match for Babakov in Paris. He knows ways to get funding from Moscow. According to information obtained by Re:Baltica and Mediapart.fr, in 2014 and 2015, Spencerdale, via the Luxembourg-registered East-West Communication Group, paid 250,000 euros to the think tank Académie Européenne where Schaffhauser is one of the founders.
The European Academy played a central role in the National Front’s search for funding in 2014. On 29 June that year, Jean-Luc Schaffhauser convened a meeting of the board of directors of this “foundation” at his home in Strasbourg. On the agenda was the admission of two Russians to the European Academy, Mikhail Plisyuk and Alexander Vorobyev. Both are influential figures with close ties to the army. They head the Institute for International Integration Studies, attached to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) is an intergovernmental military alliance in Eurasia consisting of six post-Soviet states: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan.
Schaffhauser, who has never hidden his favourable views on cooperation with Putin’s Russia and was one of the international politicians legitimising Crimea’s so-called referendum allowing it to join Russia in 2014, admitted previously that he received 140,000 euros for arranging the previous loan to the National Front from Russia via a Luxembourg-named company which he refused to name.
Le Pen’s party has still to pay off the loan to Russia’s Aviazapchast
Was the Russian loan to the French National Front partly a gift? French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s National Rally received a €9 million loan from the First Russian-Czech Bank in 2014. However, the bank went bankrupt, and this debt was transferred to the successor company – Aviazapchast, a Russian state-owned company servicing Russian aircraft abroad. So, the debt of the French far-right party was bought out through intermediaries by Aviazapchast and is still being paid off.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Le Pen’s party has to pay about €12 million to the Russian company. In 2020, Aviazapchast fell under non-sectoral US sanctions for weapons sales to North Korea, Iran and Syria. At the same time, the company filed a lawsuit against Le Pen’s party to recover debts on the First Russian-Czech Bank’s loan. The case ended in an amicable settlement, under which the National Rally must make payments by December 2028.
However, Marine Le Pen has rejected accusations that the Russian loan influenced her views or activities. The National Rally party leader said this at a hearing on foreign interference at the French National Assembly in June 2023. The National Rally initiated Marine Le Pen’s foreign interference hearing at the end of 2022 in an attempt to stop accusations that they are an agent of Russian influence in France.
Le Pen condoned Putin’s aggression against Ukraine
Marine Le Pen has been the leader of the far-right National Front party (National Rally from 2018) since 2004 and was a member of the European Parliament at the time of the correspondence. In 2017 and 2022, she successfully lost twice in the second round of the presidential election to Emmanuel Macron.
However, the fact that a politician with anti-European views and dubious ties to dictator Putin’s henchmen even makes it to the second round of elections is scary.
In early 2017, pro-Russian candidate Marine Le Pen called anti-Russian sanctions “absolutely ridiculous”. If she wins the presidency, Le Pen promised to recognise Crimea as part of Russia, as she does not consider Crimea’s annexation illegal. She also added that she sees no reason to doubt the legitimacy of the referendum held on the peninsula. After Russia launched a full-scale war and invasion of Ukraine, Le Pen changed her rhetoric. However, her narrative favoured the Kremlin, as Le Pen has consistently opposed the provision of arms to Ukraine.
Babakov is the supervisor of Russia’s hybrid efforts to spread influence in France through Russian associations
Babakov’s work on spreading Russian influence in France was focused on more than just Le Pen and the National Front. He had to deal with overseeing Russian organisations. Letters from Russia’s Department for Work with Compatriots Abroad of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs show that Babakov and Putin’s regime tried to promote Moscow views in Europe using associations of Russian nationals, including France. The Kremlin has been using Russian culture as a tool and platform to promote its propaganda to benefit its geopolitical interests.
One of the letters says, “The activities of the Russkiy Mir Foundation in supporting compatriots in 2015-2016”.
“In 2015-2016, the Foundation continued to pursue its goals of promoting the Russian language, which is Russia’s national treasure and an important element of Russian and world culture, and supporting Russian language study programmes abroad. The Foundation implements its projects in more than 100 countries and maintains contacts with official partners from 5,000 organisations and institutions from all continents. Among the Foundation’s foreign partners are leading universities and educational institutions, cultural institutions, libraries, museums, non-profit organisations and associations, societies of friendship with the Russian Federation and Russian language and culture lovers, professional associations and associations, and organisations of Russian compatriots.”
“In the conditions of the sanctions wars imposed on Russia, the Foundation has become more active in using its status as a non-profit, non-governmental organisation to inform foreign audiences about the real state of affairs and Russia’s policy, to support the Russian-speaking space, and to consolidate all friends of Russia abroad.”
The extent of Moscow’s activities in creating a network of Russian and pro-Russian organisations worldwide impresses.
“Established in 2015 to popularise the Russian language and culture, the Russian World TV and radio company has been constantly expanding its broadcasting range. In 2016, the radio station “Russky Mir” started rebroadcasting programmes with the help of Russian-speaking partners on FM frequencies in the USA (Houston, Russian-language radio station “We are from Texas”), Canada (Toronto, Russian-language radio station “Megapolis Toronto”) and Latvia (Riga, Russian-language radio station “PIK 100 FM”).”
“In 2015, 5 new Russian Centres were opened: in Berlin, Germany; Granada, Spain; Almaty, Kazakhstan; Kamchia, Bulgaria; Salzburg, Austria. In addition, the Russian World Cabinet of the Association “Let’s Cognize Eurasia” in Verona, Italy, was transformed into a Russian Centre. At the end of March, the Russian Centre in Macau, China, reopened its doors on a new site – the University of Macau. In 2016, 3 Russian Centres were opened: in Bratislava (Slovakia), Barcelona (Spain), and Tokyo (Japan). Currently, there are 107 Russian Centres in 46 countries.”
Another letter informs Babakov “ON THE SITUATION OF RUSSIAN COMPATRIOTS IN FRANCE”.
“There are about 80 thousand of our compatriots in France, over 30 thousand of whom are citizens of the Russian Federation. A significant number of small and medium-sized businesses are operating in France, which were founded and are headed by representatives of various waves of Russian emigration.”
“The activities of the Association “Franco-Russian Dialogue” are reaching a new frontier. The task of this organisation, which includes leading business representatives of the two countries and prominent scientific, public and cultural figures (including those from our compatriots), is to assist the development of bilateral ties both in the economic sphere and civil society. The Association’s leadership is taking active steps to increase the effectiveness of Dialogue’s activities significantly. The most active in this respect are the European Association of St. Vladimir, the organisation “Hope – East”, the Union of Russophones of France, the Russian Red Cross and others.”
“In the sphere of youth cooperation among compatriot organisations, the closest ties with Russian partners are maintained by the “Versailles Cadets”, the National Organisation of Knights, and the National Organisation of Russian Scouts.”
“In close cooperation with the Embassy, the Russian Centre for Science and Culture in Paris (RCSC) works with compatriots, which has become a venue for festive and other events and a comprehensive tool for working with compatriots and spreading our culture and language.
The Rossotrudnichestvo office has fruitful contacts with such organisations of compatriots as “The Union of Russophones of France”, “France-Ural”, “Russian Community in France”, “Centre of Russian Language and Culture”, “Crossroads of Cultures”, “Maxime and Co”.”
DRS OF RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY, July 2012
Russia spread its influence and propaganda to impose the Kremlin’s biassed views and push for its interests
In many countries, corruption, cunning propaganda and Russian cultural organisations have been vital in helping the Kremlin advance its interests and impose its agenda and biassed views. However, now Russia is isolated due to its senseless, unlawful and brutal war against Ukraine, and Putin’s henchmen who have organised links with European politicians are under sanctions.
The Western politicians themselves, who did not shy away from receiving bloody money from Moscow, now do not dare to support Russia openly but instead mumble about the need for negotiations (with the aggressor), oppose sanctions (for violating international law and provoking the worst security crisis since World War II) and oppose providing weapons to Ukraine.
At the same time, the Russian propaganda machine has suffered a painful blow, as RT and Sputnik have been banned in Europe, and new pro-Russian puppet media like Omerta have little coverage. The end of Putin’s regime and Russian imperialist assault on freedom in Europe and Ukraine’s independence is near. We may be seeing the last months of this Kremlin regime. When it falls, the popularity of its backers in Europe will severely decline too.
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