Solidarity, sanctions or NATO-blaming: What French presidential candidates say about Ukraine

The Russian invasion of Ukraine on Thursday has drawn mixed responses from those running in the French presidential race. Here's what you need to know.

Ukrainian military vehicles drive through Kyiv.
Ukrainian military vehicles drive through Kyiv. French presidential candidates have mixed positions on the Russian invasion. (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP)

Despite the best mediation efforts of French President Emmanuel Macron, who spoke extensively with his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts over the past few days, Russia has launched an invasion of Ukraine. 

Russia has made aggressive land grabs before, including the annexation of Crimea in 2014, but this moment feels historic. The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has said that the conflict could escalate into the worst war since the beginning of the 21st century.  

With less than two months to go until the French presidential election, we have broken down where the candidates stand on the Russian invasion. 

Emmanuel Macron

Emmanuel Macron is yet to officially declare his intention to run for reelection, but is almost certain to do so on March 6th at a political rally in Marseille. 

He reacted angrily to the Russian invasion, taking to Twitter to demand: “Russia must immediately put an end to its military operations.”

“France stands in solidarity with Ukraine. It stands by Ukrainians and is working with its partners and allies to end the war,” he added.

Macron had been at the forefront of efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis, and travelled to Russia for a meeting with Vladimir Putin before heading to Ukraine.

After becoming President in 2017, Macron sought to build a personal relationship Russian President Vladimir Putin. A week after taking power, he invited Putin for a grand reception at the Palace of Versailles. 

The French President has supported sanctions Western on Russia. 

In 2019, he described NATO as “brain dead” – but he was suggesting strengthening and reforming the organisation, not withdrawing from it.

Marine Le Pen

Macron’s most likely challenger for the presidency is far-right leader, Marine Le Pen. 

She too condemned the invasion of Ukraine, releasing a statement declaring that “no reason can justify the launching of a military operation against Ukraine by Russia, which upsets the balance of peace in Europe.”

Le Pen has called for an international conference to bring an end to the conflict based on the Minsk agreement. 

She has said that to bring about peace, any notion that Ukraine could one day join into NATO should be dismissed – in line with the wishes of Putin.

In the past, Marine Le Pen’s political party, now known as the Rassemblement National, has borrowed tens of millions of euros from Russian banks and she is said to have a good personal relationship with Putin, who she has met several times. 

Russian state media is largely positive in its coverage of Marine Le Pen, who has previously spoken out against sanctions on Russia and argued that “there was no Russian invasion of Crimea.”

One of her campaign pledges is to withdraw France from NATO. 

Valérie Pécresse 

As a rightwing candidate for the centre-right Les Républicains party, Valérie Pécresse supports “targeted sanctions” on Russia and has voiced support for Ukraine. 

On Tuesday, she appeared on France Inter and described Macron’s attempted diplomacy as “arrogant, lonely and ineffective”. 

As a teenager, Pécresse attended communist youth camps in the USSR and learned to speak Russian (she is now fluent).

Her former mentor, 2027 presidential candidate François Fillon has drawn widespread condemnation in France for his statement that appears to support Putin. 

Éric Zemmour 

Former TV pundit, Éric Zemmour, is another far-right candidate running in the race. 

He put out a statement on the recent invasion, via Twitter, saying, “a new war on our continent must be avoided.” 

Zemmour has argued against sanctions on Russia however and described the current crisis as the result of a Western/NATO led expansionist policy that has “ignored the legitimate security concerns of Russia.”

If Zemmour wins the election, he said he would push for a treaty that would see the end of NATO expansion, in exchange for an end to Russian violations of the sovereignty of eastern European countries. He would like France to withdraw from NATO altogether. 

Jean-Luc Mélenchon

The most popular left-wing candidate in France’s upcoming presidential election is Jean-Luc Mélenchon. 

He called for an immediate end to the invasion on Thursday but has been vague on the details. 

One of Mélenchon’s campaign pledges is to withdraw France from NATO. 

The veteran politician has criticised Macron’s attempts to resolve the crisis diplomatically. 

Yannick Jadot and Anne Hidalgo

The Green candidate Yannick Jadot has called for “extremely severe” sanctions on Russia. 

He has also organised a protest outside the Russian Embassy in Paris to show solidarity with the Ukrainian people.

Meanwhile Parti Socialiste candidate Anne Hidalgo has described the invasion of Ukraine as a “violation of international law” and called for France to react “firmly”

What about former politicians? 

Former Prime Minister – and 2017 presidential candidate – François Fillon, attracted widespread condemnation when he blamed the invasion on “the West’s refusal to take into account Russia’s demands about the expansion of NATO.”

Fillon, who lost out on the 2017 presidential race after becoming embroiled in a corruption scandal, currently sits on the board of directors for a Russian petrochemical company called Sibur. 

Meanwhile, former President François Hollande  has criticised other candidates challenging Macron for the presidency, over their position on Russia. 

“They always find extenuating circumstances every time Vladimir Putin advances and commits acts in violation of international law,” he said, on BFMTV

“Jean-Luc Mélenchon wants France to leave NATO, Éric Zemmour just as much. I am not comparing them but they have the same positions. Marine Le Pen too.” 

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Macron says it will be ‘decades’ before Ukraine joins EU

France's President Emmanuel Macron said Monday it would take "decades" for a candidate like Ukraine to join the EU, and suggested building a broader political community of democratic states around the bloc.

Macron says it will be 'decades' before Ukraine joins EU

“Even if we gave them candidate status tomorrow,” he said of Ukraine, “we all know perfectly well that the process of allowing them to join would take several years, in truth doubtless several decades.”

But, noting the urgence of giving Ukraine and other EU hopefuls like Moldova and Georgia a place in the heart of Europe, he called for the creation of “European political community”.

Russia invaded Ukraine in February, in part to thwart Kyiv’s tilt towards integration with the EU and NATO, and Georgia and Moldova are also partly occupied by Moscow’s troops.