Vladimir Putin’s propaganda machine may relentlessly denounce Ukraine’s authorities as fascists and xenophobes, but elsewhere in Europe the Russian leader is energetically courting far-right politicians as allies in his confrontation with Western governments.

“You can see that the National Front is viewed very favorably in Russia,” says Ludovic de Danne, foreign affairs spokesman for radical-right French party. “We are more than tolerated, we are seen as a friend.”

He reels off a list of top Russian officials — headed by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, now under US sanctions for his role in the annexation of Crimea — who lined up to receive National Front leader Marine Le Pen when she visited Moscow last year.

“We have a balanced position. We don’t want to be part of any game that pulls us into a new Cold War with Russia,” de Danne said in a telephone interview from the European Parliament in Brussels. “Our independent stance is appreciated by those in power in Russia, that’s why we have good contacts with them.”