French President Emmanuel Macron says Russian President Vladimir Putin is a clever ‘strongman’ who exploits his opponents’ weaknesses, and who has a completely different view on democracy than his Western counterparts.
“I think he’s a very strong man. He’s a strong president. He wants a great Russia. People are proud with his policy,” the French leader said in an interview to Fox on Sunday. However, Macron cautioned that “we should never be weak with President Putin. When you are weak, he uses it.”
Noting Russian-French disagreements on a number of issues, Macron then pulled no punches on Russia’s alleged wrongdoings against foreign democracies.
“He made a lot of fake news. He has a very strong propaganda and he intervenes everywhere… I mean, around Europe and the US, to fragilize our democracies because he thinks it’s good for his country,” Macron said.
This is in line with the Western narrative of Russia as a bogeyman obsessed with meddling in foreign elections. Macron himself used this mantra during his election campaign and vowed to protect France from “fake news” – referring to RT and Sputnik. However, specific examples of misreporting or fake news were not provided.
After thousands of emails of then-candidate Macron were leaked in the run-up to the final vote in May, the media began pointing fingers at Russia again. To their disappointment, French investigators found no traces of Russian hackers in the attack on Macron’s election campaign.
Fear of the ubiquitous Russian interference in elections spread to another key country in the EU – Germany. Prior to the election in September, Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of the Federal Agency for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), called the legitimacy of the election into question, saying that Russia could influence it in a number of ways.
These claims also crumbled as “no information” indicating Russian interference emerged, according to the head of the German Federal Election Committee, Dieter Sarreither. Since taking office, Macron’s approval rating has nosedived. A recent poll showed that only 44 percent of respondents are satisfied with his performance. One reason lies in Macron’s domestic reforms, which have triggered massive protests across France.
His recent moves in the international arena – joining the US and UK to bomb Syria – have also been met with disapproval. Dozens of protesters gathered in Paris on Saturday to denounce “the false pretext” of the intervention in Syria and to show their support for the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
However, popular support is not the most important thing when making difficult decisions, Macron said.
“Polls are not the one to tell you where you have to go when you are elected. If you follow the polls, you never reform, you never fix the situation, you never transform because you are always obsessed by following where people want to go,” he told Fox.
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