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Ukraine Crisis Shapes French Presidential Race 


French President Emmanuel Macron waves goodbye to Georgia President Salome Zurabishvili after their talks at the Elysee Palace, Feb. 28, 2022 in Paris.

France is gearing up for April presidential elections like no other — with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shaping the campaign, and President Emmanuel Macron yet to enter the race. That’s expected to change within days, or hours — as the deadline for registering is Friday (March 4).

French President Emmanuel Macron seems to be everywhere these days — from Moscow in an unsuccessful bid for peace, to Brussels to hash out European Union sanctions against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He is everywhere that is, except the campaign trail.

French President Emmanuel Macron cuts the ribbon as he inaugurates the International Agriculture Fair, in Paris, Feb. 26, 2022.
French President Emmanuel Macron cuts the ribbon as he inaugurates the International Agriculture Fair, in Paris, Feb. 26, 2022.

At Paris’ annual agricultural fair Saturday — a mandatory stop for presidential candidates to pat cows and shake hands— Macron said nothing about his reelection plans. He warned instead that war was returning to Europe.

But his silence does not seem to be hurting. The Ukraine conflict appears to be burnishing his credentials as a wartime president. Recent polls show Macron’s popularity on the rise. With roughly one-quarter of likely votes, he is now a comfortable six or seven points ahead of Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally, and Valerie Pecresse of the center-right Les Republicains.

Political analyst Jean Petaux says during a crisis, French tradition is to rally behind France’s diplomacy and its president, to project a strong and united front overseas.

That is a frustrating position to be in, if you are one of France’s other two-dozen plus presidential candidates, spanning the far left to the far right.

FILE - French President Emmanuel Macron (R) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) in Moscow on Feb. 7, 2022, for talks in an effort to find common ground on Ukraine and NATO.
FILE - French President Emmanuel Macron (R) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) in Moscow on Feb. 7, 2022, for talks in an effort to find common ground on Ukraine and NATO.

Some tried unsuccessfully to capitalize on Macron’s failed diplomacy with Russia, portraying him as naive and ineffective.

They also have bigger headaches. France’s left and its far right are splintered. Many candidates still need the mandatory endorsements from elected officials to make the ballot. And the shadow of the Ukraine conflict is shaping the race in ways they didn’t expect.

FILE - French conservative candidate for the upcoming presidential election Valerie Pecresse gestures at a rally in Le Cannet, southern France, Feb.18, 2022.
FILE - French conservative candidate for the upcoming presidential election Valerie Pecresse gestures at a rally in Le Cannet, southern France, Feb.18, 2022.

Some presidential hopefuls are quickly distancing themselves from allegedly pro-Russian positions in the past — which their rivals are pouncing on. “Shame on them,” candidate Pecresse proclaimed at an election rally, demanding several competitors, including Le Pen and another far-right hopeful, Eric Zemmour, be disqualified.

FILE - Eric Zemmour, far right candidate for the French presidential election 2022 visits a vineyard and meets local supporters in Husseren-les-chateaux, eastern France, Dec. 18, 2021.
FILE - Eric Zemmour, far right candidate for the French presidential election 2022 visits a vineyard and meets local supporters in Husseren-les-chateaux, eastern France, Dec. 18, 2021.

Newcomer Zemmour is especially feeling the heat. He has criticized NATO and suggested France should not take in Ukrainian refugees.

All this infighting is good news for Macron. He’s standing above the fray and earning a wave of political endorsements. But with his campaign expected to kick off in Marseille Saturday, President Macron will soon become candidate Macron… with all the pluses and the perils that it brings.

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