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June 29, 2016 Special Dispatch No. 6497

Russian Reactions To Brexit

June 29, 2016
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 6497

On June 23, Britain voted in a referendum to leave the EU. Prior to the vote, Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron said that ISIS and Russian President Vladimir Putin "might be happy" with Brexit.[1] The comment was evocative of old rivalries between Russia and Britain. In the nineteenth century, the British and Russian Empires fiercely contended over Central Asia, in what was known as the "Great Game."[2] The two powers sought political and territorial hegemony there to expand their sphere of influence. Today, a new form of animosity can be observed. Inside the EU, it was the UK that most aggressively pushed to apply sanctions on Russia, following the latter's annexation of Crimea in 2014.

On June 21, just 48 hours before the Brexit referendum, the EU's Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER) met and agreed to extend the sanctions against Russia until January 31, 2017.[3] The decision must be formally approved by the bloc's foreign ministers. However, the British position on sanctions is clear.[4] On June 21, British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond said the following:"The Russians are playing a game. Frankly, a game of divide and rule. Targeting those who are temperamentally inclined to talk about sanctions relaxation: pressuring them, cajoling them...Any sign of reviewing will be seen as a sign of weakness."[5]  

Russian reactions to Brexit were not monolithic. Official Russia from President Vladimir Putin and downward attempted to display strict neutrality. Nonofficial comments and analyses focused on Brexit's impact in several areas including sanctions, the Russian economy, and EU-US relations. Most commentators identified the migration crisis as the main reason for the British vote. 

Below are reactions to Brexit by pro-Kremlin politicians and commentators: 

Putin And Lavrov Deny Accusations That Russia Sought Brexit, Proclaim Their Neutrality Or Indifference

During an official visit to Uzbekistan to attend the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) Heads of State Council, Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to a question on Brexit and to comments that Britain's departure from the EU "plays into Russia's hands". Putin said that Russia did not interfere and will not interfere in Britain's internal policy. He also added that Russia will consider the effect that Brexit will have on the Russian and global economy.

Putin said: "...I'd like to say a few words about statements made before the voting in Britain and after it. Naturally, we closely followed the voting but never interfered or sought to influence it. Therefore, British Prime Minister David Cameron's statements on Russia's position before the referendum had no grounds whatsoever [referring to Cameron's comment that ISIS and Putin would be happy about Brexit]. I think it was an inappropriate attempt to influence public opinion at home. As we can see, it did not work. In my opinion, it is all the more inappropriate to speak about Russia's supposed position after the voting. This is truly a low level of political discourse.

"Now, to address the core issue. Of course, this will have consequences for both Britain and Europe as a whole. The referendum campaign and subsequent results point to the British Government's self-assuredness and supercilious attitude to life-changing decisions in their own country and Europe in general. It will have global effects. Again, they are inevitable - both positive and negative. Needless to say, everything will settle back to normal in the mid-term. Time will tell whether there will be more pluses or minuses.

"It seems to me that ordinary British citizens understand why this happened. First, nobody wants to feed and subsidize weaker economies and pay to support other states and entire nations. This is an obvious fact. Apparently, people are displeased about security, which is being eroded by powerful migration waves. People want to be more independent.

"One of the EU leaders - a former leader-told me that the ratio of binding decisions adopted by the European Parliament is higher than that made by the USSR Supreme Soviet in relation to Soviet republics. This means that the concentration of power at the top there is very high. Some like it and want to continue down this road of erasing national borders, whereas others do not like it. Judging by everything, by the results of the voting, the overwhelming majority of British subjects do not like it. It does not suit them.

"However, I would like to reiterate what I said recently at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum. This is the choice made by British subjects. We did not interfere, are not interfering and will not interfere in this in any way. From all indications, certain formal procedures will follow, related to the British people's decision to leave the EU.

"We will closely watch and analyze this, seeking to minimize whatever negative fallout this decision might have for our economy, because considering the blow it dealt to markets and currencies, it is bound to impact and is already impacting stock exchange indices and therefore the prices of our traditional goods, but I am sure that everything will fall into place in the very near future..."[6]  

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also attended the SCO meeting and fielded media questions on Brexit. Asked to comment on the referendum's results, Lavrov remained neutral, saying that "It's the British people's business". Lavrov disparaged a British Foreign and Commonwealth Office claim that Brexit was "a victory" for Putin, by answering: "I never studied medicine. Therefore, I do not comment on medical cases."[7]


Britain cuts off its own arm, to be free from the EU. (Source:  Twitter.com/sharzhipero; June 28, 2016)

Putin: If Anyone Is To Blame For The Referendum It Is Cameron

Before the Brexit referendum took place Putin discussed Brexit with international news agency heads at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF).He speculated on Cameron's reason for initiating the referendum on Brexit.

Putin said: "As for the British Prime Minister: Brexit is now a very big issue, but why did he initiate this referendum, why did he do it? To intimidate Europe, or to threaten someone? What is the point of this if he himself opposes the idea? I should say that this is absolutely none of our business. This is the choice of the British people."[8]


Vk.com/13studiya, June 23, 2016.

Queen Elizabeth II: Bye- Bye!

The EU leaders are drowning and French President François Hollande asks the Queen: And what about us?

Refugees portrayed as ISIS Terrorists: And us?

Russia-EU Relations After Brexit - Putin Prefers A Strong Europe As A Partner, FM Lavrov: 'I Do Not Know What A Weak Or Strong Europe Is'

During a joint news conference with Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi at the SPIEF, Putin said that Russia prefers to interact with a strong Europe, rather than with a weak one. He then added that it is still unclear how Brexit can impact Europe: "Russia wants to interact with a strong Europe, because a dialogue with a weak partner is more trouble than it is worth: they can always be pressured by a third party, and all agreements and cooperation plans go down the drain. A strong partner would never allow this.

"But what would we call a strong Europe? This problem is waiting for a painstaking researcher, and I would rather it is you, not us. Will Europe be stronger if Britain votes to leave or to stay?"[9]

Lavrov at his SCO meeting with reporters addressed the question of whether a weak Europe is bad for Russia and good for the U.S. Lavrov replied: "I do not know what a weak or strong Europe is, and whether the decision made by the British people weakens or strengthens Europe. We will have to see."Lavrov was also asked if Russia expects that Brexit will spark a "wave of referendums". He answered: "We expect nothing. We are not a member of this organization. That after the British referendum, political forces in various EU countries say they also want to organize a similar referendum is a purely internal affair of these countries and of the EU."[10]

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova was less diplomatic and posted on her Facebook account a sarcastic comment insinuating that the EU countries will all decide to leave the EU in the near future: "In general, I would not be surprised if instead of terms connected to a specific country, such as Grexit and Brexit, in the near future there will be a more universal concept as "Whoexit?"[11]

Brexit And EU Sanctions On Russia-Putin: 'I Do Not Think That [Brexit] Will... Impact Our Relations With The EU'; Moscow Mayor: 'With Britain Out, No One Will Stand So Firmly In Favor Of Sanctions'

Several Russian public figures, including Putin, also discussed the consequences of Brexit on EU sanctions policy towards Russia, as Britain had been a major proponent within the EU. During his official visit to Uzbekistan for the SCO Putin denied a connection between the two issues: "Regarding the sanctions policy, I do not think that this will in any way impact our relations with the EU... We were not the ones who initiated these sanction restrictions on both sides. We only responded to the restrictions that were imposed on our country."[12]

First Deputy Minister of Economic Development Alexei Likhachev also denied a direct connection between Brexit and sanctions on Russia. He qualified this by saying: "If the United Kingdom does not apply sanctions against Russia after the exit from the EU, a reasonable situation will emerge to cancel restrictive measures with respect to agricultural goods from the United Kingdom."[13]

Moscow's mayor Sergey Sobyanin was more outspokenly positive about Brexit and wrote on his Twitter account: "With Britain out, no one in the EU will stand so firmly in favor of sanctions against us [Russia]."[14]

 
Source: Twitter.com/MosSobyanin, June 24, 2016.

The State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Aleksey Pushkov gloated on his Twitter account: "Yesterday, the EU was thinking about how to help Ukraine, and how to 'punish' Russia. Today, instead, the EU thinks about how to get a divorce from Britain and help itself. Zigzag history ..."[15]

 
Source: Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, June 25, 2016.

 
Source: Vk.com/13studiya, June 25, 2016.

A Ukrainian painter is changing the colors of the Union Jack into the colors of the Ukrainian flag.

On the wall: "Ukraine is Britain." The cartoon mocks the Euromaidan slogan: "Ukraine is Europe".


Source: Twitter.com/sharzhipero, June 26, 2016

The pro-Kremlin media outlet Sharzh I Pero publishes a cartoon predicting the future demise of the EU won't exist anymore. The only country claiming to be a EU member is Ukraine. The cartoonist implies that the Ukrainians are the last people who believe the EU is worth joining.

Economic Perspectives - Former Minister Of Finance Kudrin: Brexit Has No Significant Impact On Russia; Federation Council Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Kosachev Rejects Oversimplification 'Whatever Is Bad For Them Is Good For Us'

Russia's former minister of finance, Alexei Kudrin, who has recently joined the president's economic council, wrote on his Twitter account: "Brexit has no significant impact on Russia. We have our own problems, which are more sensitive."[16]

 
Source: Twitter.com/Aleksei_Kudrin, June 24, 2016.

Federation Council Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Konstantin Kosachev said that Brexit could seriously damage Russia's established trade. Kosachev said: "I don't share the simplified point of view stating that whatever is bad for them is good for us. If the EU gets submerged in its own problems and steps into another crisis period this would affect our trade relations as well."[17]

The pro-Kremlin think tank Valdai Club published an article, titled "How Will Brexit Affect Russia?" by the Director of the Valdai Club programs and Associate Professor at the Moscow State Institute Of International Relation (MGIMO), Andrey Sushentsov(See also MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6460, "Director Of Russian Think Tank Valdai Club Programs: Moscow Has Much To Lose From Brexit," June 7, 2016). In the article, Sushentsov asserted that Brexit will negatively impact Russia's economy and foreign policy. Sushentsov explained that Brexit will economically damage Russia in several areas. First of all, Brexit could spark a "trade war" between the UK and the EU, which can jeopardize Russian investments not only in Britain, but also in the Netherlands and Cyprus, Russia's leading partners. Furthermore, Sushentsov mentioned that Brexit may influence the safety of Russia's third-largest gold and currency reserves, as "EU Brexit-related economic problems" may cause the devaluation of these reserves.

The Role Of Germany -Valdai Club Scholar Assesses That Brexit Could Transform The EU Into A Germany-Dominated Bloc; Notable Orthodox Theologian Kuraev: 'The Fourth Reich is being born in Europe'

In the same article, Sushentsov wrote that Russia fears the implication that Brexit could transform the EU into a bloc dominated by Germany - a scenario that could have negative repercussions for Moscow. After Brexit, Britain may draw closer to the U.S., to form a new "Anglo-Saxon alliance", whose policy inclinations may prove more hostile to Russia.[18]

This opinion was shared in harsher terms by the notable Orthodox theologian and missionary, Protodeacon Andrey Kuraev, who warned:"The Fourth Reich is being born in Europe, since the united Europe without Britain means German hegemony. The EU is helpless in front of Washington's demands, and those demands will be reinforced by 100% solidarity of the former Great Britain, which relinquishes its status as a world power and becomes just a small island country."[19]  

Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Pushkov: '[Brexit] Is...A Personal Failure For [U.S. President] Barack Obama'

If the western media stresses that Brexit is Putin's victory, Aleksei Pushkov argues that Brexit marks the failure of U.S. President Barack Obama, who pleaded with the British people to vote Remain while visiting London in April, 2016.[20] Pushkov wrote: "No need to blame the innocents. Russia has nothing to do with this. It's the defeat of Brexit's opponents. And a personal failure for [U.S. President] Barack Obama."[21]


Source: Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, June 24, 2016.

In another post on his Twitter account, Pushkov wrote: "The attempts to label the Brexit results a Putin victory are nothing but propaganda fantasies, electroshock's symptoms after Obama's and Brussels' loss."[22] 

Russian Federation Commissioner for Entrepreneurs' Rights: 'Brexit Will Tear Europe From The Anglo-Saxons'

Russian Federation Commissioner for Entrepreneurs' Rights Boris Titov wrote on his Facebook account that with Britain out of the EU, the EU will be less dependent on the U.S. Titov wrote: "It seems that it happened -The UK is out!!! I think that the main longstanding consequence is that Brexit will tear Europe from the Anglo-Saxons, i.e. from the US. It's not about Britain's dependence on the EU, it's about the EU dependence on the US. From here and until we will get a united Eurasia-it won't be too far. May be in 10 years."[23]


Source: Facebook.com/boris.titov.92, June 23, 2016.

Editor-In-Chief Of English-Language RT Gloats Over Brexit: 'The Fun Times Are Beginning. #Wherearemypopcorns?'

Another take on Brexit was provided by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a senior Russian politician, and the founder and leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) .Controversial statements are a Zhirinovsky trademark and he was true to form: "We will send a congratulatory telegram to Prime Minister Cameron, which says: Dear Cameron, our great friend, we are glad that Britain made a right choice despite your positions. You have to resign immediately." He then added: "Rural, provincial, working Britain said no to the European Union, which was established by the financial mafia, globalists and all the rest."[24]

Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the English-language service of the Russian-government funded television news network RT, appeared bemused by Brexit. Simonyan wrote on her Twitter account: "As we remember from our personal biographies, the centrifugal euphoria never arrives in single fashion. The fun times are beginning.#Wherearemypopcorns?"[25]

 
Twitter.com/m_simonyan, June 23, 2016


Source: Twitter.com/sharzhipero, June 26, 2016.

Putin is watching the Brexit developments as if  they were part of  a movie.

Caption: "Last week Scotland and Northern Ireland declared that they would exit the Great Britain in case the latter exits the EU"

Explaining Brexit - Pushvov: Britain Could Not Submit To The EU's 'Anonymous Bureaucracy'; Zhirinovsky: Remove The Migrants And Britain Could Have Stayed

Pushkov commented that Brexit is a consequence of Cameron's foreign policy decisions, which the electorate did not support. Pushkov wrote on his Twitter account:"That's the price that Cameron pays for all the adventures in the Middle East: the joint occupation of Iraq with the U.S., the attempts to oust [Syrian president Bashar] Al-Assad and the 'victorious' war in Libya."[26]

Pushkov also said that the British vote can be viewed as an "uprising" by Western voters against the ruling system and traditional politicians and is comparable to American voter support for U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump. He also said that Great Britain as a former empire could not be subjected to Brussels' "anonymous bureaucracy."[27]

 
Source: VitalyPodvitsky, Ria.ru, June 26, 2016.

Britain said no to Europe. In Europe only several migrants remained. The cartoonist drew several hijab attired women left behind in Europe.

Zhirinovsky also weighs in on why British citizens decided to leave the EU. He said: "I think the Europeans just don't want to live in a kolkhoz [the collective farm system established in the Soviet Union when Stalin abolished private agriculture]. They have criticized the USSR...but they were forced into a much worse [form of governing]. Brussels decides everything: quotas, democracy style. The main impetus [to vote for Brexit] was of course the migrants [crisis]. Europe is tired of Asians. They come from all over. They invaded the whole of Europe. Europe is not for Europeans anymore - it's for Asians. I've been to London - only Pakistanis and Hindis around. I have not seen native British inhabitants. That's the main thing. If all the migrants were removed - all of them, [Britain] could have stayed with the EU. But for them it is not worth it, because they want their national currency, their national states, to speak their own languages and take decisions in their own capitals. It's only natural that the EU is falling apart. NATO will [fall apart] as well."[28]

 
Source: Vitaly, Vk.com/13studiya, June 26, 2016.

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whom Russia's current leaders blame for the breakup of the USSR: "David, my dear lad, now you will have to carry burden of breaking the Union." The term "Union"is a double entendre referring both to the Soviet Union and the European Union.

The pro-Kremlin philosopher Aleksander Dugin said that if the British citizens decided to leave Europe it is either due to "disappointment" or because the country is adopting another strategy. "Anyway, it's just about chaos," he said. According to Dugin, chaos prevails in the Middle East and the Arab world in general. "And now it's Europe turn. Everything is ready for that," Dugin stated "To some extent the Britons are escaping the [EU] sinking ship. But it won't help them. Masses of migrants, crossing the Mediterranean, will successfully cross the English channel in just a matter of hours...For quite some time European democracy is not predicated on the authority of the majority, but on that of the minorities. That's why people never decide on anything. This is a 'theater society'. But anyway - any democracy is just a leaflet to paper over the power of the elites. Today it's just obvious to everyone."[29]


Source: Twitter.com/sharzhipero, June 29, 2016

Caption on top: [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel: A country which leaves the EU should not count on keeping its privileges.

Caption in the image: Oh Gosh, England won't be able to receive more refugees and pay others' debts.

 

Endnotes:

 

[2] During the 19 century - during the Victorian era's "great game" - a saying in Russian existed which the elite employed to explain foreign policy snafus:" Anglichankagadit" - "The British woman is taking a crap" referring to Queen Victoria.

[3] Themoscowtimes.com, June 21, 2016.

[4] On June 17, the Council of the European Union decided to extend restrictive measures in response to the annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol by Russia until June 23, 2017. The measures apply to EU persons and EU based companies. They are limited to the territory of Crimea and Sevastopol.

See document

[5] Reuters.com, June 20, 2016.

[6] Kremlin.ru, June 24, 2016.

[7] Mid.ru, June 24, 2016.

[8] Kremlin.ru, June 17, 2016.

[9] Kremlin.ru, June 17, 2016.

[10] Mid.ru, June 24, 2016.

[11] Facebook.com/maria.zakharova.167, June 24, 2016.

[12] Kremlin.ru, June 24, 2016.

[13] Tass.ru, June 24, 2016.

[14] Twitter.com/MosSobyanin, June 24, 2016.

[15] Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, June 25, 2016.

[16] Twitter.com/Aleksei_Kudrin, June 24, 2016.

[17] Life.ru, June 24, 2016; Rt.com, June 24, 2016.

[19] Interfax.ru, June 24, 2016.

[20] See video, April 22, 2016.

[21] Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, June 24, 2016.

[22] Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, June 26, 2016.

[23] Facebook.com/boris.titov.92, June 23, 2016.

[24] Interfax.ru, June 24, 2016.

[25] Twitter.com/m_simonyan, June 23, 2016.

[26] Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, June 26, 2016.

[27] Interfax.ru, June 24, 2016.

[28] Life.ru, June 24, 2016.

[29] Tsargrad.tv, June 23, 2016.

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