Moscow – Britain’s vote to leave the European Union is a pleasant surprise for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Britain always has been the staunchest U.S. ally in Europe and a key conduit for the U.S. policy in the EU. Amid the Russia-West strain over Ukraine, it was Britain that always demanded to take a harsher line on Moscow even as some other EU members favored normalization of ties.
Now Brexit will likely make the EU less dependent on the United States, and, consequently, more interested in relations with Russia. The British exit could also set an example for other EU nations and further weaken the EU, advancing Putin’s longtime preference for dealing with individual nations.
PUTIN TAKES INDIFFERENT POSTURE
When asked about his opinion about the British referendum before the vote, Putin invariably responded that the matter was up to the British people to decide. The Russian leader maintained the posture of neutrality even after the shocking results of the vote became known, voicing dismay about British officials’ claims that he should feel happy about the outcome.
In a biting attack at British Prime Minister David Cameron, who claimed before the vote that Russia would profit from Britain’s departure, Putin noted that Cameron’s statement reflected his “low political culture.” And when asked on a recent trip to Finland what it should do to improve its plummeting trade with Russia amid the EU sanctions against Moscow, Putin answered with a sarcastic: “You ask London, they will tell you what to do.”
The British vote excited the Eurosceptic parties across Europe, such as Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, who immediately called for a similar referendum in France. Putin could expect that the popularity of such parties as National Front or Alternative for Germany will grow as the EU sinks deeper into turmoil, and Russia could benefit from their growing influence.
While feigning neutrality, the Russian president made it explicitly clear that he sees the vote as an outburst of popular discontent against the flawed EU policies, including on the sensitive migration issue. “Nobody wants to feed and subsidize weaker economies and support other states and entire peoples,” Putin said. “People are also unhappy with security, which has been eroded by powerful migration waves.”