Thursday, June 16, 2016

Putin’s gleeful silence over Brexit

Over this long British referendum campaign, world leaders have been queuing up to plead with Britons to vote to stay in the European Union.

The message, from United States President Barack Obama to Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has been clear: It’s for Britons to decide, but they should weigh the Brexit consequences carefully.

Of course there is a degree of self-interest here, as has been demonstrated by the jitters in global markets as Brexit moves ahead in the public opinion polls. A radical shift in direction for the world’s fifth-largest economy is bound to have international reverberations, especially as London is one of the great financial centres.

Amid all the commentary there has been one cone of silence. Nothing, absolutely nothing, has been said on the issue by President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

That does not mean Putin doesn’t have an opinion. He simply feels it is in his best interests to refrain from comment.

Of all world leaders, Putin wants Britain out of the EU. In fact he will be dancing a jig next Thursday if Brexit prevails over Remain in the referendum. That is because he has one equation in mind: A British exit equals a weaker EU equals a stronger Russia.

Possibly also because a much weaker and friendless Britain would eventually be forced to cosy up to Moscow, providing Putin with a dagger pointing straight at the heart of the Western European democracies he so despises.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, one of the few Western political figures who sees Putin for what he is and is not afraid to say so, summed it up recently when he said: The only country, if the truth is told, that would like us to leave the EU is Russia — and that should tell us all we need to know.”

We can expect Putin to keep his silence, at least until the campaign is over — I doubt that Brexit would want the active support of the man who sends his agents to London to poison British citizens — and it has been left to a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, to trot out the stock denial.

“Russia has nothing to do with Brexit at all. We’re not involved in the process. We have no interest in this field,” Ms Zakharova said.

Well, she would say that, wouldn’t she?

In the last few hours a man, apparently shouting “Britain First”, murdered Labour pro-EU MP Jo Cox in the street near her office in Yorkshire. My heart goes out to her husband and two young children.

It can only be hoped that this is an isolated incident, the work of a deranged individual, and not a sign that political life in Britain is descending to the level of that regularly experienced in some, less fortunate, societies.         

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