WASHINGTON (April 20, 2022)—On Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron and his far-right challenger Marine Le Pen square off in a high-stakes debate seeking to sway undecided voters with just days left before the second and final round of the presidential election on Sunday. Macron is hoping to hold onto his solid lead in polls while Le Pen doesn’t want to repeat her disastrous 2017 debate. The debate will include questions about the war in Ukraine, a topic where Le Pen and Macron differ. Le Pen said she would engage with Russia after the war in Ukraine to ensure Moscow doesn’t create an alliance with Beijing.

Marlene Laruelle is director of George Washington University’s Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies.

Ahead of the debate, Laruelle offered this analysis:

The French elections are a turning point moment both for France itself, but also for Europe, given that one of the candidates, Marine Le Pen, has a pro-Russian agenda that goes against the majority of European public opinions and heads of state. Her elections would destabilize the European political project as well as Europe's policy toward Ukraine and Russia, and open new channels of support for Orban's Hungary inside the EU. So far, latest polls give her a 44 percent of votes, but even if she doesn't get elected, the fact that Macron is not able to secure a more radical success against her will weaken his presidency domestically.