ABP – ww reports.
LONDON – Many world leaders are fretting over Britain’s possible exit, or Brexit, from the European Union, which some fear could lead to the eventual collapse of the 28-member bloc. Most, including President Barack Obama, are urging David Cameron to stay in the EU. With the exception of one leader: Vladimir Putin.
As the EU grapples with a lagging economy, an evolving threat of terrorist attacks and the most serious refugee crisis since World War II, its downfall has emerged as a troubling prospect.
But not for the Russian president, who would likely be the biggest winner should Britain break from the EU, leaving the bloc’s future in jeopardy, according to European politicians and analysts.
The reasons Russia stands to benefit from that are many.
Anders Aslund, an expert in Russian economic policy and a senior fellow at the Washington-based Atlantic Council, told news agencies in an interview on Wednesday that for Putin it would prove what he’s said for years: that the EU project would fail.
It’s collapse would enable Russia to more easily wrest control over former Soviet republics, such as Ukraine and the Baltic states, he added.
But perhaps most importantly for Putin, he said, it allows him to assert that Russia is again a global superpower, and prove to the Russian public that he kept his promise to “bring Russia off its knees” and restore its greatness.
Power and respect are things Putin longs for. But he’d also like to see a weaker West.
As Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, put it last week, Putin “would see Brexit as a sign of our weakness and of the weakness of European solidarity at the very moment when we need to maintain our collective strength.”
And there are financial reasons for why Putin would celebrate the Brexit. Britain has supported an independent European energy strategy, Guy Verhofstadt, former prime minister of Belgium and leader of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) in the European parliament, wrote recently in The Guardian.
“It is economically and strategically vital for Putin that EU countries remain reliant on Russia’s vast supplies of gas and oil, which he has consistently used as a foreign policy instrument,” he said.
In the short term, Putin sees dividing the EU as a way to break the consensus behind the economic sanctions placed against Russia after its annexation of Crimea and its military actions in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Along with the fall in global oil prices, the sanctions have caused Russia’s economy to shrink and the ruble’s value to plunge to all-time lows.
Russia is using a variety of different methods to undermine the EU and push it to the brink of collapse, experts say.
For years, Moscow has bankrolled radical far-right political parties and fringe groups to exploit popular dissent against the EU.
In 2014, at the same time Russian forces were seizing control Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, Political Capital, a Budapest-based research institute that has tracked the extent of Moscow’s reach in Western Europe, published a report showing just how many such groups it was funding.
Since then, Moscow has given large sums of cash to Marine Le Pen’s French far-right National Front party, among many others.
Aiding Putin, of course, is his powerful propaganda machine that is state-run media. Kremlin-funded outlets have been working in overdrive in recent months, according toStopFake, a Ukrainian fact checking site that exposes biased and fake Russian news reports. StopFake said that from Feb. 1-8, Sputnik, Russia’s English-language news site for Western audiences, published 14 stories on the Brexit issue, including eight with overtly negative headlines.
They also propagate those stories on social media. For example:
Over the same period this month, the Kremlin-sponsored RT.com also published biased coverage while giving air-time only to commentators who were heavily in favor of a Brexit, StopFake found.
Both outlets, which promise readers an “alternative opinion” to mainstream Western media, continue to publish similar reports and op-eds almost daily.
Putin’s recent actions in Ukraine and Syria, and his current efforts in exploiting the refugee crises for Russia’s gain, Aslund said, show Putin has orchestrated an organized destabilization campaign against the EU, and he is willing to see it through.