Putin's focus is now on Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn

Analysis: Brexit Britain is a target ripe for Russia’s destabilising influence

Kim Sengupta
Diplomatic editor
Friday 28 June 2019 10:54
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Putin: 'Traitors must be punished'

At the start of the year, Vladimir Putin was speaking of the need to improve the relationship between Britain and Russia after it plummeted to one of its lowest levels since the Cold War with the novichok attack in Salisbury.

“In my mind, UK-Russian relations are at a dead end and it’s in the interests of both sides to get out of this dead end,” he declared at a press conference, stressing that it was in the interest of both nations to have a diplomatic thaw.

The Russian president pointed out that his country topped the list of direct investors in the UK in the year, and while there had been a lack of dialogue in the political sphere, there were plenty of productive talks at a business level.

However, asked about Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, Mr Putin’s response was to retreat to talk of British and Western propaganda and insist that the Kremlin had nothing whatsoever to do with the poisoning in Salisbury.

Theresa May’s stated intention to raise the chemical agent attack and demand the extradition of the two men charged in the UK of carrying it out – Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, members of the military intelligence service GRU – will not lead to Mr Putin giving ground on the matter.

Not only does Russia not extradite its citizens to face trials abroad, the president – whose popularity has been falling at home from its normal high – is not going to alienate his power base among the past and present members of the security apparatus.

At the same press conference in Moscow, the Russian president advised the UK to get on with Brexit, wanting to point out that “otherwise it wasn’t really a referendum”.

Critics of Putin’s Russia hold that one of its primary aims is to weaken the Western alliances, Nato and the European Union, as it has shown by interfering in elections across the continent and investing in populist parties.

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In this context, Brexit Britain is a good target to cultivate. But Moscow will be focusing on Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn, the probable future occupants of No10, to do this – not Theresa May.

The brutal fact is that she is now a figure of the past, and whatever she demands or not of Vladimir Putin will have little impact in the future relations between the two countries.

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