BERLIN – While it’s unclear how well Russian President Vladimir Putin will get along with Donald Trump and his team of Republican hawks, it looks as though he has already won the French presidential election. The front-runner in the primary election of the French center-right, Francois Fillon, is nearly as enthusiastic a Russophile as Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, and the center-left hardly stands a chance in next year’s presidential election.
France is clearly in for some surprises in the election, scheduled for April 23. It already seems prudent to start disregarding the polls, just as sensible observers did before the U.S. election. Alain Juppe was considered to be the center-right front-runner before the primary. According to the polls, he was the one candidate who could confidently beat Le Pen. In the event, former President Nicolas Sarkozy, who hoped for a political comeback and rivaled Le Pen in anti-immigrant toughness and euroskepticism, gave up after coming in third — and called on his backers to support Fillon, the surprise winner with a big lead over Juppe.