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Brexit winner Putin

Ingo Mannteufel / groJune 26, 2016

Moscow's official reactions to Brexit will likely be marked by diplomacy, but secretly, the Kremlin is rejoicing: Its risky gamble has paid off the first time, writes DW's Ingo Mannteufel.

Usbekistan Taschkent Treffen SCO Wladimir Putin
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Klimentyev

UKIP's Nigel Farage and other prominent euroskeptics in EU, such as Geert Wilders in The Netherlands, or France's Marine Le Pen, are not the only winners of the Brexit decision. Russian President Vladimir Putin also benefits from the Brexit referendum.

However, it is unlikely that Putin will express this stance. He places far too much value on presenting himself as an international statesman who responds with moderate, diplomatic words. But schadenfreude and crocodile tears clearly dominate the tone in the Kremlin-controlled media channels, as Russian state media has been long propagating the negative image of a decaying European Union.

Putin's international populist hymn

Britain's desire to leave the European Union reminds many Russians of the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Brexit decision is undoubtedly a historic turning point. But it will not result in a total collapse of state and economic order, as seen after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This reality is being withheld from Russian television viewers, as Kremlin propagandists will prefer to tell tales about the oh-so-broken Europe. That way, the Russian population can be distracted from its own domestic crisis and Russia's ruling elite can cement its power monopoly.

Russian politics cannot be seen as the cause of rising populist sentiments in Europe or the USA – if one thinks of Donald Trump supporters. The reasons can be found in an assortment of demographic, political and socio-economic factors. Nonetheless, in recent years, the Kremlin has distinctively increased its support for populist and euroskeptic groups, be it in the form of a loan to Marine Le Pen's National Front from a Russian-Czech bank or in the form of extremely benevolent media coverage by Russia's international state broadcaster of Nigel Farage's UK independence Party or the Scottish independence movement in 2014.

Mannteufel Ingo Kommentarbild App
DW's Ingo Mannteufel

Europe's stability and capability to act are undermined by the reinforcement of populist tendencies in Europe – mostly right-wing movements, but also left-wing ones as well. The reasoning behind this is that growing discord in Europe can create opportunities for Russia to attain better results in negotiations with the EU, especially with regard to Russia's present hopes of loosened European sanctions.

Maximum target in foreign policy met

The Brexit decision actually indicates that Russian foreign policy has reached its highest goal: In the coming years, the EU will focus on itself. EU enlargements are currently no longer conceivable. The bad news for all Ukrainians, Moldovans and Georgians today is that EU enlargement embracing post-Soviet states or Balkan States has now been delayed to a faraway time in the future. And even swift visa waiver approval for Ukraine and Georgia is still hard to imagine.

The prospect of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia joining the EU has been destroyed until further notice. Indirectly, it means that these countries will be pushed back into Russia's historic sphere of influence, even though no one in the European Union would openly admit it. And so, Russia's President Putin is clearly one of the Brexit winners.

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