Not that anyone West of then Kiev will believe him, but Russian president Vladimir Putin told a gathering of business leaders and politicians at a Tashkent summit by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) that no way no how is Russia influencing anti-E.U. referendums.
“Russia does not interfere now or in the future, nor is going to influence the choices of the U.K.,” he said at the central Asian summit. Putin leaves the former Soviet city and heads to China on Monday, four days after pro-sanction U.K. voted to leave the European Union.
Anti-Russia conspiracy theorists have pointed to a number of media operations within the E.U. that promote European skepticism. Other critics argue that Russia’s government officially supports politicians or non-profits that indirectly support leaders who are friendly to Russian causes. It is unclear why Russia would be interested in breaking up the European Union, as that does not necessarily pose any threat to the existence of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. NATO is the seen as the biggest existential threat to Russia, though this too is debatable.
Putin laid to rest this weekend that Russians are celebrating the Brexit vote. Some 52% of Great Britain citizens voted to leave the European Union, with a high 72% voter turnout.
Putin told guests at the SCO summit that the referendum outcome “showed how the British are unhappy with the level of security in the country…and against subsidizing other economies. I think it is understandable why this happened,” he said. “No one likes to feed and subsidize weaker countries and be a care taker all the time,” Interfax quoted him saying on Friday. “They clearly want to be more independent from Brussels,” he said.
Putin said that media reports about U.K politicians saying how he would be happy about a Brexit were “improper attempt to influence public opinion.”
“As we can see, that had no impact on the results,” he said, further criticizing the British press and some politicians. “We do not expect this to result in a global catastrophe,” Putin added.
U.K. voters rejected the European Union, not to be in cahoots with Russia, but because they were against being ruled — on some matters — by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. Steve Forbes pointed this out in an op-ed here on Friday. When the economic crisis hit Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland, the response of Germany and Brussels was to demand austerity, “but it was of the pro-big-government, anti-private-sector variety,” he writes. Taxes went up and some public services were cut, but the government sector was spared. Ireland refused to listen to Brussels and kept its corporate tax rate of 12.5%, recovering far faster than the others and actually voting to remain in the European Union.
The second, if not biggest blunder, was immigration policies regarding Syrian refugees. Angela Merkel’s decision “to let hundreds of thousands of Mideast refugees into a continent that has badly handled the integration of past immigrants–notoriously letting virtual self-governing areas arise that became a haven for terrorists–was the breaking point,”
These two egregious errors have already led to the rise of nationalist politics. Merkel’s own coalition is splintering. The most popular political figure there is a member of the leftist Green Party. The second-most popular is the foreign minister, who says Germany must come closer to working with Russia.
Russia investors, of course, love this idea. They would like to see sanctions removed.
But even the idea that Brexit makes it easier for Europe to scramble for friends, even “frenemies”, Russia’s food industry, which has banned imports from Europe in retaliation for sanctions, has invested billions in upgrading production and creating new produce markets for home-grown goods. Russia faces a double edged sword in the removal of sanctions as it is. But seeing how the E.U. voted to extend sanctions out til January 2017, both sides have at least six months to figure out what the E.U. without the U.K. looks like politically. And whether or not this is of any benefit to Russia’s economy.