France has warned the Kremlin against meddling in its elections after a leading candidate was forced to publicly deny he is gay and his aides accused Russian media of waging a smear campaign against him.
Foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault threatened 'retaliatory measures' in the event of interference in upcoming presidential elections in April.
His warning comes after American intelligence accused Moscow hackers of helping Donald Trump win the US presidency.
Ayrault spoke out as aides to one of the leading French candidates, Emmanuel Macron, this week accused Russia of trying to derail his bid.
It comes after an article by Russia's Sputnik news agency said staunchly pro-Europe Macron was backed by a 'wealthy gay lobby'. Macron, who is married, last week denied rumours of having had a gay affair.
Rumours spread in France claimed the 39-year-old was seeing Mathieu Gallet, the 40-year-old boss of Radio France.
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Foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault (pictured) threatened 'retaliatory measures' in the event of interference in the upcoming presidential elections in France in April
It comes amid a period of heightened tensions between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the West
Staunchly pro-Europe Emmanuel Macron (pictured) has accused Moscow of being behind a flurry of cyber attacks on his campaign website and email servers over the past month
The article called 'Ex-French Economy Minister Macron Could Be "US Agent"' was the result of an interview with a politician who backs conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon.
Macron's aides accused the state-owned Russia Today (RT) channel and Sputnik news agency of waging a smear campaign against the 39-year-old former economy minister.
Macron also accused Moscow of being behind a cyber attacks on his campaign website and email servers over the past month.
'Half of the attacks, and there are hundreds a day, come from Ukraine, which is known for its links to hackers and people responsible for cyberattacks in Russia,' said his spokesman Benjamin Griveaux, accusing the Kremlin of trying to boost Fillon and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, both of whom urge closer ties to Russia.
Ayrault warned the French parliament: 'We will not accept any interference whatsoever in our electoral process, whether by Russia or any other state,' said Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.
'After what happened in the United States, it is our responsibility to take all steps necessary to ensure that the integrity of our democratic process is fully respected.'
He said France would set clear limits, 'including retaliatory measures when that is necessary, because no foreign state can influence the choice of the French, no foreign state can choose the future president of the Republic.'
Speaking at the National Assembly, Ayrault also took aim at Fillon and Le Pen, saying it would be better if 'certain candidates who see themselves favoured by, in particular, a country we know well - Russia - protest against this type of influence'.
It comes amid a period of heightened tensions between Russian president Vladimir Putin and the West.
This has been increased amid a furore over Russia's alleged interference in the US campaign that has already forced out one of Trump's top aides.
Trump's national security advisor Michael Flynn resigned on Monday after it was revealed that he misled top officials over his contacts with Russia during the campaign.
US intelligence agencies had already accused Russian intelligence of hacking Democratic Party emails that embarrassed Trump's rival Hillary Clinton.
Putin has moved troops closer to his borders while NATO has responded by bolstering defences in eastern Europe. Tanks are pictured arriving by train at the US base in Mihail Kogalniceanu, eastern Romania on Tuesday
Ayrault's remarks come as aides to one of the leading French candidates this week accused Russia of trying to derail his bid
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country will hold a general election in September, has also voiced fears that Moscow could try to influence the vote through cyberattacks or disinformation.
Putin has moved troops closer to his borders while NATO has responded by bolstering defences in eastern Europe.
Last last year, British warships were deployed to escort the Russian aircraft carrier General Kuznetsov as it made its way through the English Channel.
Meanwhile, Macron remains the front-runner in France's presidential race, with 39 percent of those surveyed by Ipsos giving him a favourable opinion.
In the poll released by the magazine Le Point on Wednesday, Macron was followed by Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon, with 38 percent, while Fillon tumbled 18 percentage points to 25 percent, just behind Le Pen, at 26 percent.
Trump's national security advisor Michael Flynn resigned on Monday after it was revealed that he misled top officials over his contacts with Russia during the campaign
France has warned Russia against meddling in its elections after American intelligence accused Moscow hackers of helping Donald Trump (pictured) win the US presidency
Fillon's campaign has stumbled as it tries to fend off claims he used public funds while a senator to hire his wife and children for fake jobs.
Moscow on Tuesday vehemently denied the Macron camp's allegations of meddling.
'We never had, and do not have, the intention of interfering in the domestic affairs of other countries, and especially not in their electoral process,' Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
RT and Sputnik echoed the denial.
Earlier on Wednesday, French President Francois Hollande asked his security cabinet to brief him on the 'specific vigilance and protection measures being taken during the electoral campaign, including in the cyber domain', the presidency said.
Hollande, who is not himself seeking re-election, did not say what kind of threat the two-stage April 23-May 7 presidential election faces, nor did he point the finger at any group or country.