Few doubted Richard Burr, head of the US Senate intelligence committee, when he said in March that, “the Russians are actively involved in the French elections.” The news today of a massive online leak of emails from the campaign of Emmanuel Macron, the centrist who is leading the polls, adds weight to that suspicion. An internet security firm reported nearly two weeks ago that Macron had been the target of a hack (paywall) by the same Russians who attacked the Clinton campaign in the US, though as of now there’s no established link between that hack and the emails leaked today.
And even more so than in the US campaign, Russia’s attempts to swing the election towards Macron’s Moscow-friendly rival, the National Front’s Marine Le Pen, have not been remotely subtle.
Two media organizations Sputnik and RT, have been particularly active against Macron. Sputnik in February reported unfounded allegations that Macron is “secretly gay and living a ‘double life,'” while backed by a “very wealthy gay lobby.” He laughed off the reports.
It was the type of smear that might take down a candidate in Russia, but in France, it’s hardly a big deal: National Front vice president Florian Philippot is openly gay, while revelations in 2014 about president François Hollande’s extra-marital affair even gave him a modest poll boost.
The Russian domestic press hasn’t pulled any punches either. Pro-Kremlin tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda headlined a story “Meet Emmanuel Macron: A Rothschild puppet, a psychopath and a ‘Mister Nobody.'”
The article (link in Russian) goes on to describe him as “shining like a fake coin” and having “the happy eyes of a calf,” while calling his wife, who is 25 years his senior, a “wrinkled old woman.” The piece quotes Alain Sorel—a far-right Swiss writer whom the newspaper calls “one of France’s best analysts”—as saying that Macron’s alleged globalist billionaire backers chose him for the presidency because he is “a man-puppet with a broken mind, whom they can easily control.” Macron’s ostensible homosexuality, meanwhile, is a result of being “perverted” by his schoolteacher in childhood, Sorel explains. (Macron’s wife, Brigitte Trogneaux, is his former schoolteacher.)
Government paper Rossiiskaya Gazeta, meanwhile, went all out (link in Russian) on the animal imagery. Macron, it wrote, is like an “adder woken after winter hibernation,” and has “fishlike, slightly bulging eyes.”
These smear attempts, much like the purported Russian intelligence report on US president Donald Trump’s “golden showers” with prostitutes in Moscow, have a slightly deranged quality to them, as if they were desperately hurling different kinds of filth at Macron to see what would stick.
Perhaps the smartest idea was to tap into popular anger, fuelled by the “Panama Papers” leaks, about elites hiding assets in tax havens. A few days ago files were posted anonymously online containing claims (paywall) that Macron has a shell company in the Caribbean island of Nevis. (Macron has alleged some websites spreading these were “linked to Russian interests,” though no Kremlin link has been proven.) The supposedly leaked documents, however, have a couple of crucial flaws. Firstly, the word “Caribbean” is spelled wrong on one supposed fax.
Secondly, Macron supposedly signed his name on the incorporation documents, which would have defeated the point of opening a secret shell company in the first place.
The leaked campaign emails look like a last-ditch attempt to derail Macron. This late in the race, and with his lead over Le Pen widening in the very latest polls, this gambit too will probably fail. Let’s hope that Macron’s opponents, whoever they are, aren’t desperate enough to try something worse than smearing his name.