12:48 May. 13, 2016
An EU without Britain is exactly what the Russian president wants: a weakened institution with less power to confront his assaults on Europe's borders
olitics often makes for strange bedfellows. Far-right parties in the UK and across Europe push for anything that will weaken the European Union – a goal shared by Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. This week, their fellow Brexiteer Boris Johnson went as far as to repeat the Kremlin line that Europe is partly to blame for Putin's ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
One does not expect clear policy statements from Trump or Johnson, but Putin's reasoning is irrefutable. His goal is to weaken the institutions, including Nato and the EU, that could thwart his neo-Soviet ambitions. The Kremlin was in mourning when Scotland narrowly voted to stay in the UK. Putin sees Europe as his enemy and wants his adversaries to be divided, smaller and weaker.
Divide and conquer isn't new, but that doesn't mean it isn't effective. During his 16 years in power, Putin has done a good job of picking off the weakest, most pliable members from the herd of European leaders and using them as a wedge against a united Europe. He had Silvio Berlusconi, who boasted he was Putin's personal advocate. He had Gerhard Schröder – and in fact still has him as chairman of the Nord Stream gas pipeline connecting Russia to Germany, which Schröder signed into effect as German chancellor.
Brexit isn't simply an item on Putin's wish list. Russia Today and Sputnik, Kremlin propaganda outlets that are inexplicably treated as legitimate news sources in the west, are full of Brexit articles (next to the pro-Trump ones).
Putin always supports the most divisive elements in European politics, and hopes they will repay the favour by voting to end the EU sanctions placed on Russia after his invasion of Ukraine. Europe's anti-immigrant parties, the quasi-fascists and the not-so-quasi fascists, openly venerate the man who has annexed European territory and continues his military assault in Ukraine – a country Putin wishes to punish for following the dream of joining the EU, a dream some in Britain would freely abandon.