It literally pays to be a European friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin. At least that's the experience of Marine Le Pen, whose far-right National Front party has secured a €9 million Russian bank loan in what appears to be a Kremlin bet on the future of French politics.

The National Front, an anti-immigrant, anti-European Union party with a rich history of racism and anti-Semitism, certainly can use the money. In 2012, the latest year for which data on French political party financing are available, its cash inflows amounted to €6.2 million, about 1/10th of what the ruling Socialist Party took in.

A combination of big state subsidies for the largest parties and restrictions on private donations entrenches France's two-party system, in which the Socialists battle the center-right UMP in every election. Any force seeking to break in needs a lot of cash.