Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed France's far-right leader and presidential candidate Marine Le Pen at a surprise meeting in Moscow, Russian state television showed.
"We by no means want to influence the current events but we reserve the right to communicate with all representatives of all political forces of the country, as do our partners in Europe and the United States for example," Interfax news agency quoted Putin as telling Le Pen.
"I know that you represent quite a fast-developing spectrum of European political forces."
The meeting with Putin had not been announced when Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma, said Le Pen would be visiting on Friday (24 March) to meet lawmakers.
Moscow has reportedly cultivated close ties with far-right and populist parties throughout Europe opposed to European integration and Nato. Russia has also been accused of meddling in the French election in a bid to undermine Le Pen's rivals.
Centre-left candidate Emmanuel Macron currently has a lead over Le Pen in polls ahead of May's election.
Le Pen has long praised Putin, and has been provided with a platform on Kremlin-owned Rusian media networks. In 2014 it was revealed that a Russian state-owned bank had loaned millions to Le Pen's Front National party, and the party has sought further Russian loans to fund its 2017 presidential campaign.
In a meeting with Russian parliamentary speaker Vyacheslav Volodin earlier on Friday, Le Pen had called for closer cooperation between Russia and France in the fight against terrorism, and called for sanctions imposed after Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 to be ended.