No basis in pro-EU propaganda suggesting Putin supports Brexit

Bryan MacDonald
Bryan MacDonald is an Irish journalist, who is based in Russia
A banner encouraging people to support a local Brexit campaign hangs on the side of a building in Altrincham, Britain May 3, 2016. © Phil Noble
Across social media, anti-Brexit "Remain" campaigners constantly insist that Vladimir Putin wants Britain to leave the EU. There is no evidence to support this theory.

Imagine you are an EU employee. Right now, your home country could be about to leave that very same institution. Naturally, that wouldn’t be in your best interests. So, in the interests of self-preservation, you might feel the need to do your bit to help scare people into voting against a British exit.

What better way to achieve that than by posting a menacing Tweet alleging that some figures, constantly vilified by the British popular press, support Brexit? A sort of all-star compendium of tabloid poltergeists.

That’s what Paul Reiderman did this weekend. According to his bio, Paul is the “Director (of) Media and Communication” at the European Council. The EU Council, under current President Donald Tusk, is where things get done in Brussels. Especially in foreign policy. For instance, the present anti-Russian sanctions were imposed from there.

Reiderman has been part of the EU team for 17 years, and his Twitter behavior this weekend is instructive as to how Brussels’ propaganda works.

"So I just completed my Panini sticker book of foreign political leaders supporting Brexit,” he tweeted. Panini produced adhesive cards, featuring soccer players, which were popular across Europe in the 1970s and 1980s. The politicians he depicts are Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Holland’s Geert Wilders, France’s Marine La Pen and America’s Donald Trump.

While he doesn't appear to be a trained journalist, Reiderman is a senior media official at the upper echelons of the EU. Thus, you’d expect that he’d be well aware of the importance of fact-checking. To that end, some Twitter users asked him to provide a link to his assertion that Putin supports Brexit. He ignored them.

The Menace Of Unreality

Consequently, I decided to do a little digging myself. And guess what? There is no reference anywhere of Putin ever expressing support for Brexit. In fact, the Russian Embassy in London is so fed up of Putin being used as a scarecrow by Eurocrats, and their media supporters, that in March it even issued a statement clarifying that Russia has no opinion on the subject.

"Russia is being dragged into the domestic debate on Brexit," the officials wrote. "We’d like the British people to know that those pronouncements have nothing to do with Russia’s policy. As a matter of fact, our Government doesn’t have an opinion on Britain’s place in the EU.” That does sound pretty clear.

As it happens, Reiderman was bang on about Wilders, who thinks everyone should leave the EU. Also, La Pen echoes that view. Meanwhile, Trump has suggested that the UK would be “better off without” the EU.

Orders From On High

But from Putin there has been zilch, nada and diddly squat. Not a peep. Indeed, the Russian President is unusual in this regard as everyone else seems to have an opinion. Japan’s Shinzo Abe, Germany’s Angela Merkel and Xi Jinping of China have all interfered in the campaign so far. Meanwhile, President Obama even flew to England to tell people how to vote.

A lack of evidence didn’t stop Reiderman from composing his crude Tweet. Yet, he didn’t stop there. Indeed, Reiderman wanted his creation to fly around Twitter like a dove of discourse, chirping misinformation to the masses. With that in mind, he tried to enlist a few big hitters to spread the phony composition.

Such as Tony Blair’s former press attaché Alastair Campbell. Campbell ignored him, but did post a similarly erroneous tweet from the actor Stephen Mangan.

Another target was Eliot Higgins, the founder of Bellingcat and a lobbyist for the pro-NATO Atlantic Council, or Senior Fellow as he says himself. Higgins, no stranger to promoting disinformation, obliged. Despite being included in the begging message, to his credit, Bill Browder steered clear.

Not restricting himself to Brits, Reiderman also invoked Austrian editor Thomas Mayer, who translated the nonsense into German.

To Brexit Or Not To Brexit?

This notion that Putin supports Brexit has always rested on weak foundations. A British exit from the EU would unite, rather than divide, the remaining members. Britain has always been the most Eurosceptic nation in the bloc and has consistently put a break on integration attempts. Furthermore, its tabloid media has long been a thorn in the side of Eurocrats.

Should London leave, it will mean increased German control over the EU, especially with France so enfeebled these days. Not only has Berlin been the main driver of the anti-Russia sanctions, Russia has historic reasons to distrust German power. Indeed, relations between Berlin and Moscow are currently worse than at any time since Willy Brandt was elected Chancellor in 1969.

Then there is the NATO question. The Kremlin doesn’t really fear the EU, rather it’s the military alliance that gets its back up. Should Britain walk away from the former, it will need to massively increase its commitment to the latter, in order to compensate for its lack of a voice at the other Brussels’ institution. Putin hardly wants NATO to become even stronger.

There is no actual evidence that Putin supports Brexit. In fact, there is plenty to suggest that it would be against Russia’s best interests if the referendum carries. Supporters of Britain’s continuing membership might want to indulge in a little fact-checking before they Tweet.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.