French Election: Macron Holds Off Far-Right Push

Credit…Thibault Camus/Associated Press

PARIS — Officials across Europe swiftly reacted with a sigh of relief on Sunday after President Emmanuel Macron of France comfortably beat his far-right rival, Marine Le Pen, in the presidential election.

“Together, we will advance France and Europe,” Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, wrote in French on Twitter.

Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, wrote on Twitter that “we can count on France for five more years,” while Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany said Mr. Macron’s re-election was a “vote of confidence in Europe.”

Mr. Macron’s office said on Sunday that Mr. Scholz had called Mr. Macron to congratulate him. “It is the first call that the president has received and taken, a sign of Franco-German friendship,” his office said.

At home, Jean-Yves Le Drian, Mr. Macron’s foreign minister, told France 2 television that he was “convinced” Mr. Macron would be “up to the challenges that await.”

Final results are not yet published, but French pollsters project that Mr. Macron has won with roughly 58 percent of the vote. Still, his political opponents warned that his next term would have to take into account the simmering anger in the French electorate, as the far right won more of the vote than it has in decades.

“There has never been such a vote of despair,” Christian Jacob, the head of the conservative Républicain party, said on French television.

Roughly 28 percent of the French electorate sat out this round of the election — the highest level in over 50 years in the second round of a presidential vote.

“He is floating in a sea of abstention, and blank or null ballots,” Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the firebrand leftist who came in a strong third in the first round of the elections early this month, said in a speech on Sunday of Mr. Macron.

Mr. Mélenchon hopes to become prime minister if his party gets a strong majority in the parliamentary elections, to be held in June. “The third round starts tonight,” he said.

Top European leaders had expressed barely veiled alarm at the possibility of a Le Pen victory. Last week, the leaders of Germany, Portugal and Spain had taken the highly unusual step in an opinion article in Le Monde of implicitly urging French voters to reject her.

On Sunday, Christian Lindner, the finance minister in Germany, said a united Europe was the biggest winner. “This choice was a directional choice,” he wrote on Twitter. “It was about fundamental questions of values.”

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of Spain welcomed Mr. Macron’s victory as proof that the French want “a free, strong and just E.U.”

Officials outside of the European Union reacted, as well.

President Volodomyr Zelensky of Ukraine also congratulated Mr. Macron on his victory, calling him a “real friend of Ukraine” on Twitter. “I appreciate his support and I am convinced that we will move forward together toward new shared victories,” he wrote.

And, Christine Lagarde, the head of the European Central Bank, extended her “warmest congratulations” to Mr. Macron.

“Strong leadership is essential in these uncertain times and your tireless dedication will be much needed to tackle the challenges we are facing in Europe,” Ms. Lagarde wrote on Twitter.

And Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain tweeted that “France is one of our closest and most important allies.”

“I look forward to continuing to work together on the issues which matter most to our two countries and to the world,” Mr. Johnson wrote.

Liz Alderman and Raphael Minder contributed reporting.

Correction: 

April 24, 2022

An earlier version of this article misstated the position of Christine Lagarde. She is the head of the European Central Bank, not the head of the International Monetary Fund.

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Live Ukraine Updates: Biden Moves to Suspend Normal Trade With Russia

As Russian troops massed near the border with Ukraine last month, the American ambassador to Israel received an appeal on behalf of Roman Abramovich, the most visible of the billionaires linked to President Vladimir V. Putin.

Leaders of cultural, educational and medical institutions, along with a chief rabbi, had sent a letter urging the United States not to impose sanctions on the Russian, a major donor, saying it would hurt Israel and the Jewish world. Days later, Mr. Abramovich and Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial, announced a partnership that a spokesman for the organization said included a pledge of at least $10 million.

The request to the diplomat reflects the extraordinary effort Mr. Abramovich, 55, has made over the last two decades to parlay his Russian fortune into elite standing in the West — buying London’s Chelsea soccer team, acquiring luxury homes in New York, London, Tel Aviv, St. Barts and Aspen, collecting modern masterworks and contributing to arts institutions around the world. With two superyachts, multiple Ferrari, Porsche and Aston Martin sports cars, and a private 787 Boeing Dreamliner jet, Mr. Abramovich wanted everyone to know that he had arrived.

But now the backlash against the Russian invasion of Ukraine is tarnishing the status that Mr. Abramovich and other oligarchs have spent so much to reach. On Thursday, British authorities added him to an ever-expanding list of Russians under sanctions for their close ties to Mr. Putin.

Mr. Abramovich, whose fortune is estimated at more than $13 billion, was barred from entering Britain or doing any business there — disrupting his plans to sell his soccer team and prohibiting it from selling tickets to matches, even blocking him from paying to keep the electricity on in his West London mansion.

Oligarchs like Mr. Abramovich “have used their ill-gotten gains to try to launder their reputations in the West,” said Thomas Graham, a Russia scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations. “But the message of these sanctions is, that is not going to protect you.”

On Friday, Canada announced sanctions of its own against Mr. Abramovich. The United States has not imposed sanctions on the billionaire — so far, at least. In a statement explaining its actions, the British government said that the businessman had profited from transactions with the Russian government and special tax breaks. The statement also suggested that a steel company Mr. Abramovich controlled could contribute to the war against Ukraine, “potentially” supplying steel for Russian tanks. The business, Evraz, said in a statement that it had not done so. A representative for Mr. Abramovich did not respond to a request for comment.

“The blood of the Ukrainian people is on their hands,” Liz Truss, the British foreign secretary, said of the oligarchs under sanctions. “They should hang their heads in shame.”

Credit…Victor Vasenin/Kommersant/Sipa USA, via Associated Press

Michael McFaul, an American ambassador to Moscow during the Obama administration, recalled that while Mr. Putin’s government claimed to despise the United States and its allies, his foreign ministry was constantly trying to help the oligarchs around him, including Mr. Abramovich, obtain visas so that they could ingratiate themselves with the Western elite.

“On our side, we have been playing right along,” he said, overlooking the oligarchs’ ties to Mr. Putin and welcoming them and their money.

Orphaned as a child in a town on the Volga River in northern Russia, Mr. Abramovich dropped out of college and emerged from the Red Army in the late 1980s just as the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was opening new opportunities for private enterprise. Mr. Abramovich plunged into trading anything he could, including dolls, chocolates, cigarettes, rubber ducks and car tires.

His big break came in the mid-1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when he and a partner persuaded the Russian government to sell them the state-run oil company Sibneft for about $200 million. In 2005, he sold his stake back to the government for $11.9 billion. Other deals followed, including the formation of a mammoth aluminum company. Many involved the Russian state, and some ended in bitter litigation.

After Mr. Putin was inaugurated president in 2000, he quickly moved to dominate the billionaire businessmen who had profited from privatization, sending a message by jailing the richest and most powerful oligarch. Mr. Abramovich is one of the few early elite who remain in his circle.

As Mr. Putin was consolidating power, Mr. Abramovich served as governor of a desolate northeastern province from 2001 until 2008.

Credit…Reuters

“I started business early, so maybe that’s why I’m bored with it,” he told The Wall Street Journal in 2001 about his interest in the region, saying he wanted to lead a “revolution toward civilized life.”

But like other oligarchs wary of the new president’s power to make or break them, Mr. Abramovich also began looking for footholds outside Russia.

Mr. Putin’s display of force “increased the incentive for the oligarchs to have acceptance in the West,” said Stephen Sestanovich, a professor of international relations at Columbia University and former ambassador at large to the former Soviet Union. “Who knows when you might fall out with Putin and need an alternative place to land?”

In spring 2003, Mr. Abramovich was in Manchester, England, to watch the legendary Brazilian forward Ronaldo score a game-winning hat trick for Real Madrid. The Russian had never shown much interest in soccer before, but that night he was smitten.

He soon began shopping for a team — looking in Spain and Italy before settling on England and finally on Chelsea. His $180 million takeover — completed in quick, stealthy talks with the British financier Keith Harris over a single weekend — transformed the club. In his first summer, he went on the largest single spending spree for players that English soccer had ever seen.

Within two years of his arrival, Chelsea was the English champion for the first time in a half-century, and the team has since won four more championships. A Russian flag has hung outside the stadium for years, emblazoned with the words “The Roman Empire,” alongside a stylized image of its owner’s face. (Britain on Friday said it would consider proposals to buy the soccer team under special conditions.)

Credit…Odd Andersen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

At a news conference when Russia won the right to host the 2018 soccer World Cup, Mr. Putin commended Mr. Abramovich for the development of Russian soccer, too, and suggested he might play a role in “a public-private partnership” to prepare for the tournament. “He has a lot of money in stocks,” Mr. Putin noted, smiling.

While looking after his London soccer team, Mr. Abramovich met and married his third wife, Dasha Zhukova, the daughter of a Russian oil magnate, who had grown up partly in Los Angeles; studied Russian literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara; and tried fashion design in London.

In 2011, he bought an elegant 15-bedroom mansion near Kensington Palace for a reported price over $140 million, which was expanded a few years later to include a huge underground swimming pool.

Then he turned heads in Manhattan in 2014, paying $78 million for three adjacent townhouses on East 75th Street, in a landmark district of the Upper East Side. He proposed combining the three homes of different styles into a single mega-mansion, with an elevator, a new glass-and-bronze rear facade and a pool in the lower level. The Historic Districts Council, an advocacy group, called the plan “a whole new level of egregious consumption.” But he ultimately managed to win city approval, in part by purchasing a fourth adjacent townhouse for nearly $29 million and revising his alteration plans.

Credit…Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters

Ms. Zhukova had developed a growing interest in art, and in 2008 she and Mr. Abramovich founded Garage, a seminal contemporary art center in Moscow. (Amy Winehouse performed at the opening, and early shows included works by Cindy Sherman and Jeff Koons.) He joined the board of the Bolshoi Theater. And Mr. Abramovich started to earn a reputation as one of the biggest spenders in the art world, known for buying pieces by blue-chip artists. He spent nearly $120 million at auctions in the same week, acquiring a Francis Bacon triptych and Lucian Freud’s “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping.”

It struck one figure in the New York art world as “a trophy approach to collecting.”“It’s like when you go to a hunter’s house,” said Todd Levin, an art adviser. “There’s the elephant on the wall, there’s the rhino, there’s the tiger and the lion.”

Although he rarely gave interviews, Mr. Abramovich was often photographed alongside the rich and famous at fashionable spots around the world, and his New Year’s Eve parties at his estate on the French island of St. Barts — reportedly a $90 million property covering 70 acres — have made tabloid headlines. One year, Paul McCartney joined the Killers to sing the Beatles classic “Helter Skelter.” Entertainment in other years included the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Prince.

Mr. Abramovich and Ms. Zhukova divorced by 2019, and he transferred to her the New York townhouses, plus two nearby apartments, for $92 million, according to public records. She lives in the city with their two children — he has seven in all. She serves as a board member of the Metropolitan Museum, one of the premier positions in New York philanthropy, and is a fixture in the city’s art and fashion scenes. Her network of friends includes Ivanka Trump, the daughter of former President Donald J. Trump; Jared Kushner, the former president’s son-in-law and adviser; Josh Kushner, Jared’s brother and an investor; and Josh’s wife, the model Karlie Kloss.

Credit…Team Boyko/Getty Images

On Thursday, Ms. Zhukova distanced herself from Mr. Abramovich. “Dasha has moved on with her life and is happily remarried,” a spokesman for Ms. Zhukova said in a statement. She issued a second, more personal statement denouncing the Russian invasion as “brutal,” “horrific” and “shameful.”

“As someone born in Russia, I unequivocally condemn these acts of war, and I stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people,” Ms. Zhukova said.

Mr. Abramovich has struggled to escape the stigma of association with Mr. Putin. In 2018, after Russian spies fatally poisoned two people in Britain, the British authorities delayed renewing his business visa, reportedly seeking additional disclosures from him about his dealings.

He turned instead to Israel, where his status as a Jew allowed him citizenship. He now owns mansions in Tel Aviv and the seaside city of Herzliya, and Haaretz ranks him among the richest people in the country.

There, too, Mr. Abramovich’s big spending has set him apart. He donated $30 million to Tel Aviv University in 2015, and has since given tens of millions of dollars to the Sheba Medical Center near the city, according to a hospital official.

Credit…Orel Cohen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

He has also donated more than $100 million to an Israeli settler organization. An investigation last year by the BBC News Arabic service found that companies controlled by Mr. Abramovich had given that money to the City of David Foundation, which buys up Palestinian property and moves Jews in as part of an effort to bolster Israel’s claim to sovereignty.

Last November, President Isaac Herzog of Israel flew to London for the opening of a Holocaust exhibition Mr. Abramovich had funded at the Imperial War Museums. He called the Russian “a shining example of how sports and teams can be a force of good,” citing the “Just Say No to Antisemitism” banners that his Chelsea soccer team was hanging at its games.

When reports emerged of the recent appeal to the United States not to subject Mr. Abramovich to sanctions, Dani Dayan, the chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and a former diplomat, initially defended the letter.

“I don’t see any reason to reject a gift by a Jew, an Israeli citizen, a person that for a decade is committed to very worthy causes,” he said. He was “not a judge” and was not aware of any wrongdoing by Mr. Abramovich, Mr. Dayan added.

But after Britain imposed sanctions against Mr. Abramovich, the Israeli Holocaust memorial said it was suspending its relationship with him. A spokesman declined to say whether the memorial had received any of the multimillion-dollar pledge. “In light of recent developments,” the organization said in a short statement, “Yad Vashem has decided to suspend the strategic partnership with Mr. Roman Abramovich.”

Reporting was contributed by Graham Bowley, Stephen Castle, Stefanos Chen, Michael Forsythe, Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura, Robin Pogrebin and Rebecca R. Ruiz.

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How Europeans Are Responding to Exorbitant Gas and Power Bills

A German retiree facing sky-high energy bills is turning to a wood-burning stove. The owner of a dry cleaning business in Spain adjusted her employees’ work shifts to cut electric bills and installed solar panels. A mayor in France said he ordered a hiring freeze because rising electrical bills threaten a financial “catastrophe.”

Europeans have long paid some of the world’s highest prices for energy, but no one can remember a winter like this one. Lives and livelihoods across the continent are being upended by a series of factors, including pandemic-induced supply shortages and now geopolitical tensions that are driving some energy prices up fivefold.

Matters could get worse if tensions between Russia and Ukraine escalate further, potentially interrupting the flow of gas. Russia provides more than a third of Europe’s natural gas, which heats homes, generates electricity and powers factories. Even as politicians and leaders in capitals across Europe are freezing prices, slashing taxes on energy and issuing checks to households hardest hit by the price increases, concerns are growing about what the persistently high prices could mean for people’s jobs and their ability to pay their bills.

“People are very upset and very distressed,” said Stefanie Siegert, who counsels consumers in the eastern German state of Saxony who find themselves struggling to pay their gas and power bills.

rocked France in 2018. But Ms. Siegert, whose agency counseled more than 300 customers in January — three times its monthly average — said she wouldn’t be surprised if the anger currently directed at the prospect of a vaccine mandate shifted its sights to energy prices.

“When you talk with people, you feel their anger,” she said. “It is very depressing.”

price cap on energy bills was recently raised 54 percent, increasing annual charges to 1,971 pounds. That increase will affect 22 million households beginning in April, contributing to broadening worries in Britain about the rising cost of living.

Similar concerns can be found throughout the continent.

Athina Sirogianni, 46, a freelance translator in Athens, said she remembered fondly the day about a decade ago when her building switched from oil to natural gas. The move cut her utility bill in half.

Nyrstar, the world’s second-largest zinc processor, produces nearly 500 tons of the metal each day at a sprawling factory in Auby, in northern France, a complex that consumes as much energy as the French city of Lyon.

When its electrical rates surged from €35 to €50 per megawatt-hour to €400 last December, it made no sense to keep the factory running, said Xavier Constant, Nyrstar France’s general manager. At that rate, he said, “the more we produce the more we lose,” and so the plant shut down last month for three weeks.

Nyrstar temporarily halved production at its other European plants in October when the energy crisis set in, prompting a brief spike in the global price of zinc.

Last fall, fertilizer plants in Britain were forced to close because of gas prices. And several German companies that produce glass, steel and fertilizer have also scaled back production in recent months.

To ease the burden of the high prices, the government in Berlin reduced by half an energy surcharge on bills aimed at funding the country’s transition to renewable sources of power, and plans to phase it out by the end of next year.

on Twitter. He said the facility’s electricity prices had increased 100 percent.

He and other hospital directors have appealed to the government in Warsaw to intervene, saying the recent cuts to taxes on energy and gasoline were not enough.

In Germany, there is rising tension in municipally owned utilities that must accept customers, like Mr. Backhaus in Saxony, whose relatively low-cost contracts have been dropped by private energy companies because the companies can’t pay ballooning energy rates.

The municipal utilities are forced to increase the rates for these new customers, often almost astronomically high, to cover the cost of buying extra energy on the spot market at record prices. That leads to tensions in communities, and can threaten municipal finances.

“Anyone who wants to will be supplied with energy by the municipal utilities,” said Markus Lewe, president of the German Association of Cities and Towns. “But it must not lead to the municipal utilities and their loyal customers being asked to pay for questionable business models of other providers and having to answer for their shortsighted financing.”

He called on the federal government to intervene, to protect cities from the price instability.

In France, local leaders are also looking to the federal government to help ease the sting of skyrocketing energy bills.

Boris Ravignon, the mayor of Charleville-Mézières, said his city is facing “a catastrophe” after its January energy bill more than tripled, wiping out the region’s budget surplus for infrastructure and public services in a single month. The city is trying to cut costs by switching streetlights to LED bulbs, which use less electricity, and has proposed a new hydroelectric project.

The mayor has already frozen planned hirings and said the city may have no choice but to raise the cost of public services like water, transportation, fees to use sports halls like the city’s public pool, and cultural events.

“We really want to protect citizens from these increases,” Mr. Ravignon said. “But when prices reach such crazy heights, it’s impossible.”

Reporting contributed by Adèle Cordonnier in France, Raphael Minder in Spain and Niki Kitsantonis in Greece.

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Britannia, With Fewer Rules

“Every stage of the crisis has been characterized by the idea that Britain is a special case,” Mr. Sanghera wrote.

It was special, and sometimes for the best of reasons. When the vaccines debuted in the United States, millions of people chased them online. In Britain, the vaccine chased you. One day, a notification showed up on your phone, from the National Health Service, asking which day and vaccination center was convenient. The entire process was easier than buying an iPad online.

But England was often special in the worst way. For stretches of the pandemic it had the highest death rate in Europe. In March 2020, when Mr. Johnson contracted Covid after seeming to defy recommended precautions, The Irish Times described Mr. Johnson’s leadership as “another example of British exceptionalism backfiring in grand style, some might say, and a bad omen for Brexit, the U.K.’s other social distancing project.”

To date, England’s efforts to prevent death from Covid-19 have been more successful than those of the United States, on a per-capita basis, but lag most of Europe. In Germany, there have been 141 deaths per 100,000, in Spain 197. In England, the per capita death rate is 240.

Not the worst, and far from the best. The historian and podcaster Dan Snow argues that this showing flows from the U.K.’s faith in the power of vaccines, which is of a piece with England’s love of — and gift for creating — life-altering technology.

“The vaccine was a kind of tech optimism, it was the moonshot,” he said. “Like the U.S., we’re a country open to transformative technology and that makes sense because this is where the industrial revolution began. We start by fiddling around with looms and textiles and eventually there’s a man on the moon.”

This faith in the power of English minds to dig the country out of any mess is a variation on the theme of exceptionalism. Put another way, the English are different. Expecting them to trod the same path as the rest of Europe is folly.

Or as Mr. Snow put it, “The boring, social democratic solution of ‘Let’s slow down transmission, sit apart from each other, let’s not do whatever we want’ — to English ears, that all sounds a bit Dutch.”

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