War in Ukraine serves as backdrop to French presidential elections | Russo-Ukrainian War
Paris, France – In the basement of the Saint-Sulpice church in Paris, piles of clothes, shoes and toys are neatly arranged. Tables are stocked with non-perishable food, feminine hygiene care and medicine kits. Volunteers walk quietly past the stalls, talking in low voices.
This collection of donations, organized every Saturday and Wednesday, is intended for Ukrainian refugees who fled Russia’s war against their country, which began on February 24.
To date, 30,000 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in France, and Housing Minister Emmanuelle Wargon has announced that the government is preparing to welcome nearly 100,000.
Ludmila, a Franco-Ukrainian artist and real estate worker, volunteers at the church and said every week she sees more refugees.
“Last Saturday, 276 refugees came here,” she said. “We initially arranged for a drive to the Ukrainian Church, St. Volodymyr, a few streets away, but we were overwhelmed by the response and quickly ran out of space.”
Outside, a line of Ukrainian refugees waits patiently. Inna is in the front, watching her two young daughters enter and exit the door.
“We left Ukraine a week after the war started,” she said. “There were a lot of aerial sirens and explosions around us. It took us three days by train to get to Paris from where we lived in Zaporizhzhia.
Inna, a teacher, left behind her husband and 23-year-old son because Ukraine has banned men of fighting age from leaving the country.
She arrived at Porte de Versailles, an exhibition center turned refuge for refugees in Paris, with 600 other Ukrainians.
After spending a night there, they were all taken to a hotel, where they have been living since, while waiting.
“The French gave us everything we needed: food, medicine, clothes,” she said. “We are very grateful to the French, they are so hospitable.”
Macron on a pedestal
The war in Ukraine served as the backdrop to the French presidential elections, the first round of which will take place on Sunday.
According to a French poll organized a few days after the start of the invasion, 88% of those questioned said they were shocked and a majority were “very worried”.
The war has affected most of the presidential frontrunners, with analysts saying Emmanuel Macron, who has always led the race, is profiting from the phenomenon of ‘rallying around the flag’.
The president has been involved in shuttle diplomacy, holding several rounds of talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“Macron has always perceived the role of head of state as [that of] a historic European leader,” Bruno Cautres, a researcher at Cevipof Sciences Po, told Al Jazeera.
“He sends us the message that if he is re-elected, there will be an important measure of political, defence, security and energy independence from the European Union at the center of his next term.”
Macron appears to have unified the three positions he currently holds – as French President, presidential candidate and President of the Council of the European Union – into one.
“Through his activities as president of the Council of the EU in the management of the war in Ukraine, he sends us the message that he is an ambitious candidate for the presidency, a reformer, active on the European scene,” said explained Cautre.
Regarding crisis management, Macron has shown that he is capable of proposing solutions, he added.
Tristan Guerre, a political analyst at Sciences Po Grenoble, said Macron’s actions resonated with what voters expected of him.
“France has a long tradition of mediating in important international conflicts,” he said. “Macron perpetuates this diplomatic role of France, which is great for his public image. He chose to represent his leadership on the international stage instead of vigorously campaigning for re-election.
Macron held his first major campaign rally last Saturday and, unlike the other candidates, did not take part in a televised national debate a few weeks ago.
“The war in Ukraine propelled him into a new stratosphere – the statesman level,” War said. “He’s been put on a pedestal, but that could also put him at a disadvantage, because he’s not responding to people’s concerns, mainly on the [domestic] economic front, such as purchasing power and the cost of living.
Shuffle candidate cards
The war in Ukraine has also benefited far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, who – with rising energy prices – shifted her campaign to focus primarily on the issue of purchasing power.
In recent days, polls have suggested she may be getting closer to Macron.
“The war in Ukraine was key to understanding this election because it either mixed the cards or deepened the dynamics and differences between the candidates,” War said.
Ahead of the 2017 presidential elections, in which she ultimately lost to Macron in the second round, Le Pen traveled to Moscow, met Putin and posed for photos with the Russian president in the Kremlin.
In 2014, she voiced support for Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and in the same year presided over a nine million euro ($9.8 million) loan from a Russian bank to finance his party’s election campaigns.
Today things are different.
She distanced herself from Putin, even speaking of “war crimes” after the discovery of bodies in Bucha outside Ukraine. She has also welcomed Ukrainian refugees into the country, unlike far-right candidate Eric Zemmour, whose ratings plummeted after he refused to change his hardline stance against immigration.
Welcoming Ukrainians to France is “a sign of a certain unity in France, not a division”, Guerre said, adding that Zemmour’s position has alienated some of his support base, which assimilates the anti -immigration to anti-Islam and supports Ukrainian refugees. entering the country.
Zemmour wants to keep Ukrainian refugees in Poland or neighboring countries, and while he said Ukrainians with ties to France should be allowed to stay in France with visas, he warned that an “emotional response” risked causing an influx of refugees across Europe.
“His drop in the polls matches his open declaration of admiration and support for Putin,” Cautres said. “To say that France needs Putin, and that it is Putin who is harassed obviously did not help him.
Far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon has also been criticized for his views on Russia.
While he condemned Putin’s actions in Ukraine as ‘pure violence’, his controversial stance on international relations came under scrutiny, particularly his calls for France to adopt a no-nonsense stance. -alignment.
Back at the church, Ludmila is grateful for Macron’s stance and the French welcome for Ukrainian refugees.
But as Sunday approaches, she fears voters will choose Le Pen.
“Marine Le Pen said a few weeks ago that she sided with Ukraine,” she said. “Yet since I moved here 20 years ago, I’ve only seen her talk about her admiration for Putin. I don’t know what will happen.