Vladimir Putin has said that the UK should not hold a second referendum on Brexit, insisting Theresa May must “fulfil the will of the people”.
Offering public support that the embattled British prime minister may rather do without, Putin said he “understood” May’s position in “fighting for this Brexit”.
“The referendum was held,” the Russian president said from Moscow during a press conference shown on national television. “What can she do? She has to fulfil the will of the people expressed in the referendum.”
Russia is seen as a possible beneficiary of the UK’s exit from the EU, and a prominent financial backer of the leave campaign, Arron Banks, met Russian embassy officials repeatedly during the run-up to the referendum in June 2016.
In a nod to recent accusations of elections meddling, Putin suggested coyly he was hesitant to give advice on Brexit “lest they accuse us once again of something”.
But he then went on to criticise the idea of a second referendum or “people’s vote”, which could offer the possibility of Britain staying in the EU. A no-deal Brexit has recently become significantly more likely, with May’s deal expected to be rejected by the UK parliament.
“Was it not a referendum?” the Russian president said. “Someone disliked the result, so repeat it over and over? Is this democracy? What then would be the point of the referendum in the first place?”
Putin’s annual press conferences have taken on a carnival-like atmosphere, with some reporters donning headgear or carrying flashy signs to attract the president’s attention. The Kremlin uses the event to advance Russia’s view on world events, usually beginning with a positive assessment of Russia’s economy.
On Thursday, Putin attacked the US decision to pull out of the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty, saying that the international system of arms control was “collapsing”.
Washington has accused Moscow of violating the treaty with a new cruise missile and has threatened to quit the accord. Putin said that the threat of a nuclear confrontation was being “underestimated”, and said that Russia would be forced to “to provide for our own safety”.
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Putin also backed Donald Trump’s sudden announcement of a troop withdrawal from Syria, calling it the “right decision”, but added that Russia had not yet seen evidence of a drawdown.
“The United States has already been in Afghanistan for 17 years, and almost every year they say they’re withdrawing their troops,” he added.
Taking aim at Ukraine, the Russian president called the recent clash with Ukraine in the Sea of Azov a “provocation” and said that Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko “needed to escalate the situation around the elections”, suggesting he had tried to use the crisis to boost his ratings.
Putin ruled out releasing 24 sailors taken prisoner by Russia until a court ruled on charges that they had crossed the border illegally.
More than 1,700 journalists were accredited for the event, according to the Kremlin. Those included international media and small regional outlets, asking about local initiatives to build bridges or promote business.
Roman Dobrokhotov, the editor of the Russian language investigative website the Insider said that he was turned away from the event by federal security agents.
Dobrokhotov was one of several journalists to reveal the true identities of the suspected Salisbury nerve agent attackers, military intelligence officers Alexei Chepiga and Alexander Mishkin.
Putin did not directly address the identities of the two men accused of poisoning ex-spy Sergei Skripal, but he called western sanctions over the attack “politicised” and “Russophobic”.
“If there were no Skripals, they would have come up with something else,” he said during the nearly four-hour press conference.
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Addressing a recent crackdown on rap music, Putin said that arrests and cancelled concerts would “not lead to anything good”. But he also attacked young artists for promoting drugs.
“Why do we need that?” the Russian president asked. “It’s the degradation of the nation – do we want that? It was fashionable at one point to promote suicide, does that mean we should all go hang ourselves? Count me out!”
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