MOSCOW–The Kremlin has been careful to dismiss claims that Britain’s vote to leave the European Union came as a development largely beneficial for Russia. Yet despite the official denials, the upcoming European disorder sparked by the UK leaving the EU appears to come as a boost to Russia’s plans of increased Eurasian integration.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has rejected allegations by British Prime Minister David Cameron that Russia would welcome Brexit. “The British people have decided to leave the European Union. We never interfered in this process,” Putin said on June 24.

Putin made these remarks on the sidelines of the summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The meeting in Tashkent, Uzbekistan on June 23-24 finalized entry of India and Pakistan into the organization that currently includes Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The SCO summit confirmed the grouping’s long-term vision by approving its strategic development blueprint through 2025.

Leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) countries and observer members attend SCO summit in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, June 24, 2016. Sputnik/Kremlin/Mikhail Klimentyev/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) countries and observer members attend SCO summit in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, June 24, 2016. Sputnik/Kremlin/Mikhail Klimentyev/via REUTERS

Blaming the EU

And yet despite claims of non-interference, the Kremlin still sounded critical of European Union affairs. Putin compared the European Parliament with the Supreme Council of the former Soviet Union, adding there was too much of what he described “high concentration of power” in the EU.

Moscow also apparently believes that the EU was to blame for the current turmoil caused by the Brexit shock. Putin noted that the British people voted to leave because “no one wants to support weak economies,” and because people had legitimate security concerns in a reference to the EU’s ongoing migrant crisis.

The Kremlin also dismissed fears of global fallout following Brexit. “We do not expect any global disaster” following Brexit, Putin said. “We will continue to carefully monitor the situation,” he said.

In the meantime, other Russian officials voiced concerns that crude oil prices could plunge on the Brexit shock. Russia is not happy with Brexit as it affects the global economy, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on June 24.

Other officials moved to downplay these concerns. Brexit’s effect on the Russian economy will be limited, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov argued.

There were voices in Russia that did welcome Brexit indeed. The Russian semi-official newswire, Sputnik International, commented that Russia could benefit from Brexit over the next several years.

Furthermore, head of Russia’s nationalist Liberal Democratic Party Vladimir Zhirinovsky lost little time in predicting the continued disintegration of the European Union and subsequent demise of the Schengen Agreement, the Euro and NATO as well.

While Zhirinovsky’s rhetoric only seemed to betray a measure of Moscow’s wishful thinking, Brexit came as a positive rather than a negative development for the aims of Kremlin policies.

Shrinking British lion

Britain used to be one of the strongest critics of Russia’s policies among EU member states. With Brexit and Britain’s diminishing influence on the global stage, Russia has fewer reasons to worry about British criticism.

In the aftermath of the Brexit vote, the Kremlin also has more cause to be critical of the European Union’s policies. Among other things, it can argue that an Eurasian integration grouping is more viable than the EU.

Moscow already outlined a bold vision for such a new global integration grouping earlier this month. Putin has announced that the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) can become part of a larger integration entity, a “Greater Eurasia” to include China, India, Pakistan, Iran, and the former Soviet states in the region.

Russia has kept pursuing its vision of Eurasian integration. Following the end of the SCO summit in in Tashkent, Putin traveled to China. While he was in Beijing, Putin and Xi Jinping signed a joint statement on global strategic stability on June 25. Xi also invited Putin to attend G20 summit in Hangzhou in September. The invitation comes as a blow to perceived western efforts to isolate Russia.

The Kremlin also took pains earlier this month to ensure that “Greater Eurasia” isn’t perceived as an anti-Western plot by inviting European nations to participate in the scheme. However, following Brexit, the “Greater Eurasia” project sounds like an alternative to the EU, rather than a mutually beneficial joint venture.

Sergei Blagov is a Moscow-based independent journalist and researcher. In the past three decades, he has been covering Asian affairs from Moscow, Russia, as well as Hanoi, Vietnam and Vientiane, Laos. He is the author of non-fiction books on Vietnam, and a contributor of a handbook for reporters.

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