France issued a stern warning to Russia on Wednesday not to interfere in its upcoming presidential election in the spring.
The warning comes amid growing indications that the Kremlin is trying to tilt the election towards right-wing parties in France that favor closer ties to Russia.
"We will not accept any interference whatsoever in our electoral process, whether by Russia or any other state," said Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.
"After what happened in the United States, it is our responsibility to take all steps necessary to ensure that the integrity of our democratic process is fully respected," he told parliament.
US intelligence agencies have accused Russian intelligence of hacking Democratic Party emails in an effort to embarrass Hillary Clinton, the party's presidential candidate in last year's election.
But the French government's warning came in direct response to allegations by France's stridently pro-Europe candidate, Emmanuel Macron, who accused the Kremlin of a month-long barrage of
Macron's spokesman, Benjamin Griveaux, accused Moscow of trying to boost conservative nominee Francois Fillon and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, both of whom urge closer ties to Russia.
"Half of the attacks, and there are hundreds a day, come from Ukraine, which is known for its links to hackers and people responsible for cyberattacks in Russia," Griveaux said.
Pointing the finger at Russia
Macron's aides have also accused the state-owned Russia Today (RT) channel and the Sputnik news agency of waging a smear campaign against the 39-year-old former economy minister.
A Sputnik interview with a pro-Fillon lawmaker titled "Ex-French Economy Minister Macron Could Be 'US Agent'" is one example of Russia's alleged interference. The article also quoted the lawmaker as saying Macron was backed by a "wealthy gay lobby."
Macron, who is married, last week found himself denying rumors of having had an affair with a man.
The Kremlin vehemently denied Tuesday Macron's allegations of meddling.
"We never had, and do not have, the intention of interfering in the domestic affairs of other countries, and especially not in their electoral process," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
The denial was echoed by RT and Sputnik.
Last December France's digital security service, ANSSI, warned that the country's presidential campaign was at risk of cyberattacks. Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had also warned against the "massive dissemination of fake news."
On Wednesday, French President Francois Hollande asked his security cabinet to brief him on the "specific vigilance and protection measures being taken during the electoral campaign, including in the cyber domain."
bik/sms (AFP, Reuters)