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Vladimir Putin has worked hard to weaken the EU. File pic

Brexit: Few Will Be Happier Than Vladimir Putin

Sam Kiley

Few people around the world will be relishing the result of the British referendum on European Union membership more than Vladimir Putin. Other international rivals with the United Kingdom around the world will be rattled.

China has invested heavily, or at least planned to, using the UK as the bridgehead into Europe’s 500 million-person market. Japan has been doing so for years – imagine Sunderland without the added Nissan.

Britain’s flexible labour market, rule of law, financial services and tradition of entrepreneurism have, for 40 years, meant that it was able to attract non-EU investors keen to muscle in on the mainland’s markets.

Britain has been seen by EU-outsiders as the broker between German and French competition inside Europe. Its standing in the world has been derived not only from its recent history of empire and Commonwealth connections but also because it has been a major player in the biggest trade bloc on earth.

What its place in that market will be in the long term will be the focus of anxious and prolonged negotiation. But there can be no doubt that from Washington to Beijing leaders have been, and will be, shaking their heads with incredulity at what they will see as a bizarre turning inward by a nation that once saw no horizons to its influence.

The European Union is now more vulnerable to collapse than ever before. The Danes and Dutch may follow the British into referenda. Fences are going up across eastern Europe where borders were brought down as countries try to control the movement of refugees and migrants.

And, of course, the Eurozone still struggles to reconcile vastly different economies among its members. Some may leave the euro, others may have to accept greater fiscal integration.

All this adds up to centrifugal weakness in Europe. Italy, Greece, Finland, Sweden, Hungary, France and even Germany are seeing a growth in anti-EU parties. Some, like the French National Front, have enjoyed funding from Russia.

Putin has always seen the EU as the greatest rival to Russian power.

He has worked hard to weaken it just as it has often provided fuel for his theory that it’s an endlessly expansionist organisation biting into areas of traditional Russian influence – like Ukraine.

The EU, remember, has imposed the most biting and far-reaching economic sanctions on Russia following its annexation of the Crimea and semi-covert invasion of eastern Ukraine.

EU Council president Donald Tusk said soon after the result of the UK’s referendum: “I always remember what my father used to tell me: ‘What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’.”

So far, Putin is the only one looking stronger.

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