Russian President Vladimir Putin met with French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen in Moscow on Friday and said his government does not want to interfere in the April 23 election.
US authorities have accused the Russian government of using cyber-attacks to meddle its presidential election last year.
The Kremlin has adamantly denied those allegations.
Putin told Le Pen that Russia was not trying to exert any influence on the French race, “but we retain the right to communicate with all representatives of all political forces of the country, as our partners do in Europe and the U.S.,” according to a Kremlin transcript.
He said it was interesting to discuss development of bilateral relations with the far-right French candidate, whom he called a representative of a rising movement in European politics.
Le Pen noted Russia’s role in the fight against international terrorism and called for closer French collaboration, saying “only together can we overcome this scourge.”
Le Pen met with Russian lawmakers earlier in the day, including attending a meeting of the lower house of parliament’s international affairs committee upon an invitation by the committee’s chairman Leonid Slutsky.
Le Pen, who leads the National Front party, said the West’s poor relations with Russia are unjustified.
Russia and France should work together in the face of two great challenges – globalization and Islamic fundamentalism, Le Pen said.
She described France as no longer fully sovereign by ceding many powers to the European Union, especially in economic matters.
Slutsky called Le Pen’s visit ahead of next month’s election a “brave act,” according to comments carried by the Interfax news agency.
Relations with Russia have been a major sparring point in the French presidential race.
Le Pen, along with conservative hopeful Francois Fillon, is more friendly to Moscow than centrist front-runner Emmanuel Macron or socialist Benoit Hamon.
Macron has accused Le Pen of wanting to “side with” Russian President Vladimir Putin, while Fillon has played down Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region.
The Kremlin, meanwhile, has officially denied a report by satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaine that Fillon acted as a go-between to set up a meeting between Putin and Lebanese pipeline magnate Fouad Makhzoumi.
Le Pen’s Moscow trip is not the first major foreign engagement by a candidate in this year’s French presidential race.
Both Macron and Fillon have been received by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has made it clear that she is not interested in meeting Le Pen.