Deza (disinformation). Kompromat (compromising material). Aktivniyye Meropriyatiya (active measures). The 2016 presidential election has made the world aware of many terms that used to only swirl in the world of spies of foreign policy nerds. This was not due to an election steeped in serious discussions of foreign policy and Russian attempts to subvert liberal democracy, but due to the fact Russia was subverting liberal democracy.

The French general election

Stop me if you have heard this one before. A center-left presidential candidate holds a solid polling lead over a far-right candidate, a candidate thought to be so ridiculous that no one gave them a second thought.

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Before the election, campaign e-mails were hacked and stolen from the presumptive favorite and released in order to damage that candidate.

The first round of the #French Presidential Election was held on April 23 of this year. The two candidates who received the majority of the vote were Emmanuel Macron, founder of the centrist En Marche! political party and endorsed by former US President Barack Obama, and to what would have been the surprise of many just a year ago #Marine Le Pen, current leader and daughter of the founder of the far-right party the National Front. They will face off in a general election contest on May 7th. Current polling shows Macron leading Le Pen by 61 percent to 31 percent, or as FiveThirtyEight's Harry Enten calls a gargantuan and historic polling error away from a Le Pen victory.

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The likelihood of Marine Le Pen emerging victorious is far less likely than US President Donald Trump's were. However, this election shares many parallels in terms of political climate.

On the evening of May 5th, up to 9 GB of data from hacked campaign e-mails from the Macron campaign were released, in the same sort of dump that the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign manager John Podesta. Unlike the precise, controlled, release of information to Wikileaks over the entirety of the 2016 US presidential election, these leaks happened just 48 hours before the French polls opened. One of the most alarming aspects of the leak are the claims by the Macron campaign that fake information is being interspersed into the e-mails, which is a classic trick of Russian deza. Perhaps in a lesson learned from the errors of American media or just in keeping with French tradition of a moratorium of campaigning 48 hours before election day, many French media outlets are refusing to cover the leaked data.

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Uptick in far-right populist sentiment, and Russian meddling

All signs are pointing to the Russian intelligence agency, the GRU, as being the perpetrators of the hacking just as they were for the hacking in the American election. Short of sanctions by the Obama administration in December 2016, Russia has faced few if any consequences for their interference in the US election to support Trump. The Russians decided to run the same play again in France. While it is unlikely that the meddling will have the same devastating effects in France as it did in America, but the mere presence of this interference is something that ought to alarm those who value liberal democracy.

This does not exist in a vacuum. #Vladimir Putin did not create the far-right, only amplified it. In the days of the Soviet union, the soviets would use the techniques of provokatsiya (provocation) and deza to prop up fellow communist regimes. In post-soviet Russia, there is no chain to ideology in advancing Russian interest. The goal is destabilization, and Putin is free to play both sides. In recent history, you can look to Edward Snowden and Wikileaks as the breadcrumbs to the hard-left, crafted to sow distrust in American intelligence and the United States government on the whole. In addition to the US and French data hacking, the Russians have employed a vast network of botnets to spread deza throughout social media. For Putin to exploit far-right sentiments, there have to be far-right sentiments to exploit. Several far-right candidates across Europe have emerged over the past year running to become heads of state, including Norbert Hoffer in Austria and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands. The ground was fecund.

Marine Le Pen and the National Front

The most consequential candidate of the far-right to emerge has been Marine Le Pen of the National Front. The organization was founded by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 1972 though its roots go back to a collaborationist French party in power with Nazi Germany. Jean-Marie had been known over his career for his anti-semitic rhetoric and rampant nationalism. Jean-Marie himself successfully made it to the second round of the French presidential election in 2002 but only received 17.8 percent of the vote. His daughter is on track according to polling of more than double those numbers. She had made efforts to soften the party by allowing same-sex civil marriage into the platform and withdrawing the death penalty. Marine Le Pen even disavowed her father, kicking him out of the National Front in August 2015. Despite those efforts, according to polling, many of the National Front's supporters still hold loyal to the positions of Jean-Maire. There is skepticism as to how much Marine Le Pen is distanced from her own views. There is little indication Le Pen is an anti-semite herself but she does not appear to mind those who are. Le Pen is still known for her extreme nationalistic rhetoric and opposition to globalism, NATO, and the sphere of US influence. She enjoys a cozy relationship with Vladimir Putin for holding these positions.

Why France matters and the ultimate stakes

While the rise of far-right nationalism should be concerning no matter the country, there is symbolic significance to it being France. France was the first ally to the United States as well as its longest running current ally. French thinkers and philosophers were at the forefront of the enlightenment movement which gave rise to the ideal of liberal democracy and people like Jean-Jacques Rosseau who wrote "The Social Contract," one of the cornerstones from which all of western democracy was built. Beyond just the symbolic implications, France's place on the world stage is far larger than the Netherlands or Austria with it being a member of the G8 and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. If Marine Le Pen were to win, that would leave just Germany as the country of greatest influence with a leader committed to protecting the ideals of western democracy.

Emmanuel Macron is heavily favored to win, but the fact someone like Marine Le Pen has come so close to power in a country like France is disturbing in and of itself, no matter the outcome of Sunday's election. The Russian interference feels like a bad recurring nightmare that shows no signs of stopping until western nations like France, the UK, Germany, and the United States band together and force real consequences against Russia for the meddling. It is for the fate of the free world.