Question: The British electorate has voted and decided in favor of Brexit. The issue of Russia was never far from the debate – even after the last vote was counted. Is Russia a net-beneficiary of this democratic process?
Answer: Russia never took an official position on the vote. This was wise. The Americans foolishly stuck their nose in and probably turned-off many British voters most interested in their country’s independence and sovereignty. Well, so much for American diplomacy! The Russians were much more circumspect and thoughtful. Moscow was acutely aware any word from the Kremlin would be spun and endlessly re-spun as something sinister. But even that strategy had a down side: the Kremlin’s silence was interpreted as a policy designed intervene and undermined UK domestic politics! From a public policy and diplomatic perspective I would say Russia is not a net-loser in all of this.
Q.: Does Russia benefit in any economic way with Brexit?
A.: At this point it seems to me there are no major upsides or downsides. UK-Russia trade is not significant for either country. There is no reason for British investment in Russia to change or the bilateral visa regime impacting the average citizen. This may not be true for the banking world. London is a favored banking center for a lot of Russian money. It will be up to a newly independent UK to change this situation if it so desires. But why would it? It is unclear at this point if Brussels will attempt to “punish” London in this respect.
When it comes to the rest of Europe this will be up to the EU. In trading terms Russia and Europe are vastly important to each other. Even the Washington-driven sanctions policy against Russia has not changed this – though the Europeans are the net-losers in Washington’s anti-Russia sentiments.
With or without Brexit, the anti-Russia sanctions will end. Maybe Brexit may speed up this progress. However, never underestimate Washington’s long reach and Europe fear of American anger when a country steps out of line.
Russia and the EU have an important energy relationship; Brexit should have little or no impact on this. Once Europe returns to its senses and treats Russia as a respected trading partner, Russia-Europe trade should increase. But Moscow is not waiting. Its own Asia “pivot” is already paying dividends. The longer the Europeans argue among themselves as Washington meddles in EU affairs, the greater ease Moscow looks elsewhere for economic and trade certainty.
Q.: Western media claim Russia is gleeful with the Brexit vote, happy to see the EU weaken. Please speak to this.
A.: Russia and the EU share the same neighborhood. It defies commonsense that Russia wants to see its most important neighbors facing long and sustained political, economic, financial and social uncertainty. When your neighbor’s house is on fire, then yours could be next. All in, Russia really doesn’t really need the EU to be at war with itself. Russia also doesn’t need separate European countries using the anti-Russia card to negotiate and stronger position vis-à-vis Brussels. It is not Russia that “divides and conquer,” it is the Baltic States and Poland that divide the EU when it comes to Brussels’ Russia policy.
Q.: Let’s speak about Brexit and NATO. The conventional wisdom says Russia see’s the UK’s exit from the EU as a security gain. Agree or disagree.
A.: Russia rightfully deems NATO as an existential security threat. NATO is a Washington-driven military alliance that has decided to justify its existence by declaring Russia as its enemy. And rhetoric is backed up by actions. Seventy-five years after Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union western countries are amassing troops on Russia’s borders. Moscow takes this seriously and is responding with appropriate counter-measures. Then there is Brexit. Britain is the EU’s largest military spender and plays a prominent role in joint EU naval operations both in the Mediterranean and along the Horn of Africa. Britain is also Washington’s primary European cheerleader against Russia. Will this change with Brexit? Hard to say, but I would argue probably not. Why would it? NATO is a Washington project, not one based out of London. The only upside in the military-security sphere when it comes to Brexit is the hope Brussels will develop a coherent immigration/refugee policy working with Moscow and London. The first step Brussels should take is to refuse to involve itself in any more of Washington’s military adventures in the Middle East, particulary Syria.
Q.: Will Moscow see London and Brussels in a different light after Brexit?
A.: A better question is whether London and Brussels will see Russia in a different light. The western world is in a phase of extreme uncertainty. And it has itself to blame and not Russia. Russia doesn’t back wars of choice in the Middle East. Russia doesn’t back forced regime changes around the world. Russia is not at the root of global financial weakness. Russia isn’t behind the destruction of the west’s middle classes. Russia is not the cause of Europe’s immigration/refugee crisis. Russia shouldn’t be blamed for Washington’s machinations in Ukraine. It is time for the west to get its house in order and stop believing its own propaganda. Using Russia as a scarecrow to hide behind and disavowal responsibility is easy and cheap, but it solves nothing. Brexit will mean what the British people want, not phantom desires attributed to the Kremlin.
Peter Lavelle is host of RT’s political debate program CrossTalk. His views my or may not reflect those of his employer.