By Paul Goble
Vladimir Solovyev, a host and commentator on Moscow’s Rossiya-1 television station, said today that “terrorist acts could yet play their role and help Le Pen” win the second round in the French presidential race. After all, he continued, “two weeks is a long time” (twitter.com/GraniTweet/status/856534144804945920).
That Vladimir Putin hoped and may still hope for the victory of Marin Le Pen is obvious given her deference to his claims about occupied Crimea, her opposition to Western sanctions for his continuing invasion of Ukraine, and her hostility to key Western institutions like the European Union and NATO.
And it is also true that the Kremlin leader has provided Le Pen with financial assistance via his network of banks and given her additional prominence both by meeting with her and by promoting her candidacy via his state-controlled media and networks not only in Russia but also in Western Europe in general and France in particular.
But while many have argued that Le Pen has benefitted from past terrorist attacks — it plays on the xenophobic fears of her followers — for one of his pocket journalists to speculate about how a future terrorist attack might benefit her, even if he said it in a joking manner, crosses a dangerous line.
At the very least, it reflects a horrifying moral callousness about possible victims; but more than that, it raises the possibility that Moscow might in some way orchestrate just such an attack to benefit its ally and thus itself. That is what Putin did in the 1999 apartment bombings, and so it can’t be excluded that he may now believe he can do something similar abroad.
In the murky world that the former KGB officer operates in, taking such a step or more likely encouraging or failing to stop others from doing so would not be out of character. The French authorities and those of the West more generally need to be on high alert because of this danger.
More than that, Western leaders need to serve notice on Putin that if there is a terrorist incident in France in the next two weeks, he will be far from the last suspect – and that because that is so, there will be real and serious consequences.