Lazaro Gamio / Axios

The polls say centrist Emmanuel Macron has more or less smooth sailing to the French presidency in the second round of voting on May 7. But Kremlin-linked hackers have already attempted to infiltrate his campaign, and political observers expect further attempts to disrupt the election by Vladimir Putin, who supports far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Quick take: With most polls showing Macron up 20 to 25 points, Le Pen stands very little apparent chance of winning. But even if Putin can't swing the election to her, he can serve his long game of encouraging divisions within NATO countries, and fomenting doubt about the integrity of their democratic institutions. Look for fake news to raise the specter of terrorism and sow distrust of Muslim migrants.

Putin favors Le Pen in part because she has said she'll vote to terminate EU sanctions against Russia. She has explicitly identified herself with the Russian leader and President Trump, describing them as "new world" politicians, and Russia has supported her party with millions of Euros in funding.

U.S. and European intelligence agencies have rung the alarm about intrusive Russian cyber and fake news attacks that appear designed to create a crisis environment in the West. Now, experts say France is next.

Daniel Baer, the former US ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, said:

"Russian disinformation won't just be about Macron. It will amp up the terrorist threat as a political hot button. It will be aimed at arousing anti-Muslim sentiment. Given that Le Pen is so far back in the polls, my hunch is that — as with the U.S. — the Russian game plan will not be primarily about making her win, but rather about sowing doubt/discord/confusion."

The ground in France — as in the U.S. and elsewhere in the west — is fertile for such action, said Pasi Eronen, a cyber expert with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Putin's method, he said, is to needle already-existing discontent. "We are allowing Russia to work against us by not addressing those wounds in our society," he told me.

Go deeper

2 hours ago - Health

Ex-FDA head: U.S. will "definitely" see 200,000 to 300,000 virus deaths in 2020

Former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said on CBS News' "Face the Nation" that the coronavirus death toll in the U.S. will be "definitely" somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 by the end of 2020.

Why it matters: "Whether we're closer to 200,000 or closer to 300,000 depends on what we do now and how it evolves," Gottlieb warned on Sunday as the U.S. surpassed five million confirmed coronavirus cases.

Mnuchin says Trump executive orders were cleared by Justice Department

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin insisted on "Fox News Sunday" that President Trump's executive orders on coronavirus aid were cleared by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, and said that Democrats are going to "have a lot of explaining to do" if they choose to challenge them in court.

Why it matters: Democrats and even some Republicans have criticized Trump's decision to circumvent Congress to extend unemployment benefits as executive overreach, given that the Constitution gives Congress power to appropriate spending.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 11 a.m. ET: 19,680,042 — Total deaths: 727,777 — Total recoveries — 11,962,565Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 11 a.m. ET: 5,002,523 — Total deaths: 162,455 — Total recoveries: 1,643,118 — Total tests: 61,080,587Map.
  3. Politics: Nancy Pelosi says states don't have the funds to comply with Trump's executive order on employment — Trump adviser Larry Kudlow says he regrets suggesting the benefits could only be extended by Congress.
  4. Public health: Fauci says chances are "not great" that COVID-19 vaccine will be 98% effective — Poll: 1 in 3 Americans would decline COVID-19 vaccine.
  5. Schools: Nine test positive at Georgia school where photo showing packed hallway went viral — How back-to-school is playing out in the South as coronavirus rages on — Princeton, Johns Hopkins, Howard to hold fall classes online.