Russia accused of meddling in French election

Centrist Emmanuel Macron's campaign has claimed he is being targeted by Russian "fake news" and cyber attacks

Advisors to one of the leading candidates in the upcoming French Presidential election have claimed that Russian media and hackers are interfering with his campaign.

Officials with Emmanuel Macron’s campaign suggested that Russian state-controlled media Russia Today and Sputnik spread false reports with the aim of swinging public opinion against the independent centrist candidate.

Richard Ferrand, secretary-general of Macron's En Marche! Party told France 2 television that Russian state broadcasters were "daily" transmitting "fake news" and that Macron's campaign site and its databases had seen "hundreds or even thousands" of electronic attacks emanating from Russia.

Ferrand said that Macron, as a staunch pro-European, was a Russian target because he wants a strong united Europe that has a major role to play in world affairs.

"Two big media outlets belonging to the Russian state - Russia Today and Sputnik - spread fake news on a daily basis, and then they are picked up, quoted and influence the democratic [process]," Mr Ferrand said.

Cyber attacks

He said the Macron campaign has also been hit by "hundreds if not thousands" of cyber attacks probing the campaign's computer systems from locations inside Russia.

"What we want is for authorities at the highest level to take the matter in hand to guarantee that there is no foreign meddling in our democracy,” he said. “The Americans saw it but it came too late."

Mr Ferrand and other members of Macron’s team have offered little evidence to back up the claims.

Macron has surged in popularity in France since announcing his candidacy and opinion polls make him favourite to win the election.

The two-round French presidential vote takes place on April 23rd and May 7th.

Russia’s Sputnik news agency ran an interview earlier this month with a conservative French lawmaker who accused Macron - a former investment banker - of being an agent of "the big American banking system."

Fake news

In a statement to Reuters, Russia Today said it rejected allegations it spread fake news in general and specifically in relation to Macron and the forthcoming French election.

"It seems that it has become acceptable to level such serious charges at Russia Today without presenting any evidence to substantiate them, as well as to apply this 'fake news' label to any reporting that one might simply find unfavourable," the news channel said.

US intelligence agencies said in a report last month that Russian President Vladimir Putin had directed a cyber campaign to help Republican Donald Trump's electoral chances by discrediting Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential campaign.

French Defence Minister Jean Yves Le Drian promised last month to boost military resources to fight foreign cyber attacks, acknowledging that France was no less vulnerable than the United States.

In an election campaign which has sunk into smear and sleaze, Macron on Feb. 7 was also forced to kill rumours of a gay relationship outside his marriage to Brigitte Trogneux.

Fillon scandal

The media reports about Macron emerged from Russia as former poll favourite, Francois Fillon was hit by a scandal which has badly affected his election chances.

He has seen his poll lead evaporate following French press allegations that his wife had been paid for being his parliamentary assistant without doing any real work.

Fillon's decline has put Macron in a position to make it into a May 7th runoff vote, where polls see him winning by a large margin against far right leader Marine Le Pen - who has pledged to renegotiate the terms of France's membership of the European Union if elected.

An IFOP poll last week suggested that Macron would win the run-off vote against Le Pen with 66% of the vote.