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Russian State Media Feeds Euroskepticism, Raises Brexit Concerns

  • Daniel Schearf

A woman reads a newspaper on the underground in London with a 'vote remain' advert for the BREXIT referendum, Britain June 22, 2016.

A woman reads a newspaper on the underground in London with a 'vote remain' advert for the BREXIT referendum, Britain June 22, 2016.

Russian state media often act as cheerleaders for disunity and dysfunction within the European Union and tout Europe’s supposed moral decline and failure to protect traditional values, and project attitudes that dovetail with supporters of Britain leaving the European Union.

Numerous state TV messages portray Europe as, unlike Russia, falling apart morally, socially and being overrun by criminal migrants because of a failure of states to uphold their independence and sovereignty.

Some have gone as far as faking reports that promote Euroskeptic and xenophobic messages that analysts say are intended mostly for Russian audiences.

TV host Dmitry Kiselyov, a top Kremlin propagandist, was forced to admit “mistakes” after French TV in May exposed a faked special news report on his popular Vesti Nedeli show about protests in France.

An investigation by Le Petit Journal revealed the weekly Russian program, which showed chaos and growing opposition to the European Union in France, misquoted, mistranslated, or faked every French person quoted and falsely claimed immigrants had taken over a school.

An earlier Russian TV report falsely claimed a Russian-speaking girl had been abducted and sexually abused by migrants. The report was quoted by Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, who suggested German police were covering up the incident.

In an interview with the Izvestiya newspaper, International Affairs Committee of the Federation Council member Andrei Klimov called the Brexit vote part of a “moral evaluation” of the processes taking place in Europe.

Added together with the Netherlands' referendum against the EU-Ukraine association agreement and the French parliament’s vote to lift sanctions on Russia, both non-binding, it shows Europe has not learned to speak with one voice, said Klimov. He warned the Soviet Union collapsed because of similar processes.

While Russia pokes away at the European Union, support for Britain’s possible withdrawal from the union, a move seen by many analysts as weakening Europe, has been rather subdued.

"This is not a problem that directly affects Russia. So, that's why the press mostly followed the intrigue and the events themselves,” said Elena Ananieva, head of the Center for U.K. Studies at the Institute of Europe in the Russian Academy of Sciences. “Only lately, they've begun comments on the consequences for Russia,” she told VOA.

Growing concerns

The gradual change in British opinion polls toward favoring Brexit led to growing concerns about the effects on Russia that are being reflected in the media, said Ananieva. Russian officials are increasingly sounding alarmed.

The head of Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank CEO Herman Gref, told Bloomberg TV last week a British exit from the European Union could derail Russia’s hopes of economic recovery. “It will have a very negative influence on our economy, on our exchange rate and on investors in Russian securities,” said Gref from the annual St. Petersburg Economic Forum.

The influential banker’s comments, quoted extensively in Russian media, were the strongest to date on why Russia should be concerned about a Brexit.

At the same forum, broadcast live on Russian television, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin questioned why British Prime Minister David Cameron even allowed the vote. “Brexit is now a very big issue, but why did he initiate this referendum, why did he do it? To intimidate Europe, or to threaten someone? What is the point of this if he himself opposes the idea?,” asked a befuddled Putin.

The Russian president would not say whether he was in favor or against Brexit, but acknowledged there would be consequences for Europe.

“Various experts have given different opinions as to whether the U.K.'s withdrawal from the EU will do good or harm,” said Putin. “Most of them agree that it will damage Europe,” he said, “but some say that Europe will only get stronger and more stable.”

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