The French learn quick.
Gunning for the anti-Russian sympathy vote, and perhaps anticipating a Hillry-type outcome in the coming presidential elections, French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron who is currently in second place in the polls with a 22% approval rating, behind Le Pen at 27%, said on Monday he was the target of Russian media "fake news" and his campaign is facing thousands of cyber attacks, according to his party chief.
Richard Ferrand, secretary-general of Macron's En Marche! (Onwards!) party, said that Russian state-controlled media Russia Today and Sputnik had spread false reports with the aim of swinging public opinion against Macron.
“These attacks are coming from the Russian border,” Ferrand said. “We want a strong Europe. That’s why we’re subject to attacks on our information system from the Russian state.”
"We are in the presence of an orchestrated attempt by a foreign power to destabilize a presidential election candidate," Ferrand said and called on the French government again to take steps to prevent foreign meddling in the French election campaign.
Ferrand said Moscow looked favorably on the policies of far-right leader Marine Le Pen and center-right candidate Francois Fillon - both election rivals of Macron - and both had been "mysteriously spared" from Russian media criticism.
"If these attacks succeeded, the campaign of En Marche would become extremely difficult, if not impossible," Ferrand said in Le Monde online.
Ferrand also said the Macron campaign was being hit by "hundreds if not thousands" of attacks probing the campaign's computer systems from locations inside Russia. Calling for government action to prevent foreign meddling in the election campaigning, Ferrand said: "What we want is for authorities at the highest level to take the matter in hand to guarantee that there is no foreign meddling in our democracy. The Americans saw it but it came to late." He said about half of these thousands of attacks came mainly from Ukraine and had been organized and coordinated by a "structured group" and not by lone hackers.
With President Donald Trump weighing a thaw in relations with Putin, Macron argues that EU nations need to stick together in dealing with their eastern neighbor, Bloomberg added. While sanctions should be lifted in the long term, they must be kept in place if Russia is meddling in Europe’s democratic processes or using its energy exports as a form of geopolitical blackmail, the official said.
Whereas National Front leader Marine Le Pen has called EU sanctions on Russia “completely stupid” and Republican candidate Francois Fillon has repeatedly opposed them, Macron was part of a government that helped impose the measures and has labeled Fillon a “Putinopile” or Putin fan. “I don’t believe in French people saying that great-power France should be speaking to great-power Russia -- good luck with that,” Macron said in January in Berlin. “Russia is indeed in Europe geographically and historically speaking. We have lot of passions together, literature. And Russians live as Europeans. But you have Russian leaders who don’t share our values and our views.”
Macron has jumped in campaigning for the French election and opinion polls make him favorite to win election in May. Ferrand said that Macron, as a staunch pro-European, was a Russian target because he wanted a strong united Europe that had a major role to play in world affairs, including in the face of Moscow. Sputnik earlier this month ran an interview with a conservative French lawmaker accusing Macron, a former investment banker, of being an agent of "the big American banking system".
"Two big media outlets belonging to the Russian state Russia Today and Sputnik spread fake news on a daily basis, and then they are picked up, quoted and influence the democratic (process)," Ferrand said.
Similar accusations were lobbed at US media outlets by the losing Clinton campaign shortly after the election, accusing most websites who did not support Hillary Clinton of being distributors "fake news."
Russia Today said it rejected allegations it spread fake news in general and in relation to Macron and the forthcoming French election. "It seems that it has become acceptable to level such serious charges at Russia Today without presenting any evidence to substantiate them, as well as to apply this 'fake news' label to any reporting that one might simply find unfavorable," the news channel said in a statement.
As Reuters adds, Russian newspaper Izvestia has also reported comments from Wikileaks founder Julian Assange who said his organization had "interesting information" about Macron, who opinion polls say would easily beat far-right leader Marine Le Pen in a May 7 runoff.
Soon after the accusations, the Kremlin denied that it was behind media and internet attacks on Macron's campaign. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, replying to a question on a daily conference call, said charges made on Monday by Macron's party chief, Richard Ferrand, were absurd.
"We didn't have and do not have any intention of interfering in the internal affairs of other countries, or in their electoral processes in particular," Peskov told reporters. "That there is a hysterical anti-(President Vladimir) Putin campaign in certain countries abroad is an obvious fact."
Well, in a world of "he said, she said" fake media accusations, there is nothing to lose by stating something that can not be disproven, and at best, can lead to some marginal sympathy by anti Russian voters.
Meanwhile, Sputnik, in a comment on Tuesday, said Ferrand's accusations were false and lacked any evidence, and represented an attempt at spinning public opinion.
"By citing various opinions expressed by people involved in the election campaign, Sputnik always covers events as they are," it said. Alas, these days any time news emerges which hurt's ones political agenda, the response is rather generic: accuse it of being a source of "fake news", as has now happened first in the US, then in Germany, and now in France.