The Kremlin has anointed a new favourite in the French presidential election: Éric Zemmour, the far-right insurgent campaigner who says that Moscow is far more reliable than the Americans, the British or the Germans.

After gushing coverage by Kremlin-backed media of the polemicist’s rise in polls to second or third place, a Moscow think tank close to President Putin has endorsed him, saying he could bring Russia into a new European order.

“Given his growing popularity, it is conceivable that Zemmour can beat [President] Macron,” said Russtrat, a foreign policy institute run by Elena Vladimirovna Panina, a prominent MP in Putin’s United Russia party. “Then it is possible that we will see an alliance of Moscow, Paris and Berlin, which will confront the Anglo-Saxons led by the United States and Great Britain.”

•Éric Zemmour, the rabble-rouser dividing France’s Jewish population

After her two failed runs at the presidency Moscow’s ruling circles have given up on Marine Le Pen, the National Rally leader whom they courted and strongly backed to beat Macron in 2017, say Russian insiders. She has been asked to repay a €10 million loan from a Russian-owned bank made to her party, then named National Front, in 2014.

While Le Pen, 53, has distanced herself from Putin to broaden her appeal, the pro-Russian Zemmour is a godsend for the Kremlin. “Zemmour’s leaning towards Russia and his admiration for Vladimir Putin, which he declares openly, is the fulfilment of the Kremlin’s wildest dreams,” said L’Obs, the French centre-left magazine. Desk Russie, a French Russian news site, said: “Moscow is betting on a new horse in the next presidential election.” Zemmour’s nationalist views are “very largely shared by the Putin regime”, it added.

Zemmour subscribes to the French right-wing view that the US and Britain have plotted since the end of the Second World War to isolate Moscow and prevent it from entering a pan-European community. As president, Charles de Gaulle adopted a milder version of the view in the 1960s when he called for a Europe “stretching from the Urals to the Atlantic”. He expelled American military bases, took France out of the Nato military structure and positioned his country as strategically equidistant from the Soviet Union and the US.

Zemmour, 63, a self-proclaimed disciple of de Gaulle, says he has a “natural affinity” for Russia. “My first reflex is to defend Russia . . . I am for alliance with Russia. I think that it would be the most reliable ally, more than the Americans, more than the Germans, more than the English,” he has said. “When we were with Russia, we won wars, when we were against Russia, we lost wars,” he recalled. He was apparently talking about the Second World War rather than the defeat of his hero Napoleon in 1812.

Putin, 69, is not expected to invite Zemmour for a visit, as he did with Le Pen. He is unlikely to offer overt support because he is aware that Zemmour’s chances of victory remain slim, but Russian interests will be served by bolstering his chances and disrupting the election through support from the French-language Kremlin-financed media, Russian and French analysts say.

The Kremlin was active in the 2017 election, cheering for Le Pen and François Fillon, the conservative who was favourite until his disgrace over the bogus employment of his British wife on parliamentary funds. The Kremlin media depicted him as a victim of dirty tricks.

Macron, 43, was incensed by Russa’s interference through public and social media and clandestine means. It was behind leaked files from his campaign team two days before the final round, France said. These included forgeries of supposed payments to offshore accounts. Macron has nevertheless tried to court Putin as a key player in Europe.

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