Is Russia Really a Threat to Brexit?

by Con Coughlin
June 22, 2016

For all his claims to the contrary, there can be little doubt that Russian President Vladimir Putin will be taking a keen interest in the outcome of Britain’s historic referendum on its membership of the European Union on Thursday.

The Kremlin’s official line is that Moscow has no interest in whether the British people decide to leave or remain a member of the 28-state economic and political union. And in his first public comment on the vote last weekend. Mr Putin said the decision was “the business of the people of the UK,” even though he could not help having a gratuitous swipe at British Prime Minister David Cameron, accusing him of trying to “blackmail Europe” by calling the vote.

But even though the Kremlin’s official position is that it is observing a strict neutrality on the outcome, the reality is that there is nothing that would please Mr Putin more than a British vote in favour of Brexit.

Ever since he embarked on his aggressive military campaign to restore Russia to its former Soviet glory, Mr Putin has made no secret of his hostility to the EU. He deeply resents the EU’s successful integration of former Soviet satellite states such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, which he still regards as falling within Moscow’s traditional sphere of influence.

Indeed, it was the EU’s attempts to build a strategic partnership with Ukraine, another former Soviet satellite, that prompted Mr Putin’s illegal annexation of Crimea two years ago, as well as his continuing military intervention in eastern Ukraine. The Baltic States, which also celebrated their freedom from Soviet control when the Iron Curtain collapsed in 1989, have also been subjected to menacing intimidation by Russian forces.

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