Why Putin wants Scottish independence

Stephen Daisley

The Russia report was supposed to prove once and for all that the Kremlin rigged the EU referendum, Boris Johnson is an FSB asset and Dominic Cummings a bot operated from Saint Petersburg. Anything but the glum reality that the Leave campaign was more effective than its rival. That is not to say Vladimir Putin’s regime did not attempt to influence the 2016 vote. It is almost inconceivable that it didn’t, but the government’s complacent attitude towards democratic security means there was insufficient monitoring to know for certain.

Ministers and intelligence agencies should have been alive to the threat of Russian interference because, as the report confirms, the Kremlin intervened in the Scottish referendum six years ago. The long-awaited review cites ‘credible open source commentary suggesting that Russia undertook influence campaigns in relation to the Scottish independence referendum in 2014’. This will have come as no surprise to long-time observers of Putin’s international strategy.

The report echoes the frustration of many Western analysts of Moscow’s global realpolitik:

“The security threat posed by Russia is difficult for the West to manage as, in our view and that of many others, it appears fundamentally nihilistic. Russia seems to see foreign policy as a zero-sum game: any actions it can take which damage the West are fundamentally good for Russia."

Putin’s foreign policy jealously guards Russia’s geopolitical independence while aggressively pursuing destabilisation in Western nations, especially the United States and its allies. It is classical realism meets post-Soviet angst about national weakness and decline. Putin measures his regime’s power at least as much by its ability to cause external disruption as its ability to suppress internal dissent.

It will also not have come as a surprise to casual viewers of Russia Today’s coverage of the referendum campaign. There was no pretence at even-handedness: the United Kingdom was on the verge of imploding and Putin’s propagandists were keen to toss in a few grenades to help out. If it seems improbable that the annexers of Crimea would care a jot for Scottish efforts to cast off the yoke of English colonial oppression, understand that the break-up of the United Kingdom would be a coup for Putin’s Western destabilisation campaign.

Perversely, the Russian government appreciates better than our own that Scottish independence is a national security issue. If anything, the dissolution of the Union would be messier, more protracted and more distracting for the UK than the sluggish crawl out of the European Union. Brexit was cancelling a Netflix subscription compared to the winding up of 313 years of shared politics, economics and history. Scexit would see the UK retreat from the international sphere to focus on interior matters for years.

The article's full-text is available here.

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