Russian President Vladimir Putin met with French far-right party leader Marine Le Pen in the Kremlin on Friday, bestowing a level of international recognition that has so far eluded her in the countdown to France's presidential election next month.
Le Pen backs the lifting of the European Union's economic sanctions imposed on Russia over its role in the Ukraine conflict – a stance she reiterated on Friday.
Putin would benefit from getting the sanctions lifted, especially as he is expected to seek a fourth term in office next year. The sanctions are curbing Russia's recovery from an economic slowdown caused by low oil prices.
"We attach great importance to our relations with France, but at the same time we try to maintain equal relations both with the current authorities and with representatives of the opposition," Putin told Le Pen at their meeting.
We do not want to influence events in any way, but we reserve the right to talk to representatives of all the country's political forces, just as our partners in Europe and the United States do.
Back home in France, the meeting was the top story on the website of the French conservative daily, Le Figaro. Another French newspaper, Le Monde, said Putin had "anointed" Le Pen.
However, some French voters may be put off by Le Pen's association with a leader widely seen in the West as an autocrat.
In an interview published this week in the French daily, Liberation, her opponent, Macron, said Le Pen had a "toxic" fascination with Russia.
"We must certainly talk with Russia to ensure stability in the Middle East. But let's not forget who they are, what they do, and the nature of their regime," Macron said.
TRT World spoke to Jacques Reland of the Global Policy Institute about the significance of Le Pen's visit.