Divided by Brexit, united by Russia: UK PM asks EU to join hands against Putin
Brexit might have been an issue dividing Europe over the past few years but Vladmir Putin's Russia could be more than a unifying force for the continent which, like the Cold War years, is apprehending the Kremlin's design to expand its influence into its backyard.
The European Union (EU) recently has recalled its ambassador from Russia after various European leaders backed UK Prime Minister Theresa May over the poisoning of a former Russian double agent and his daughter in Salisbury in England.
PM May has expressed her utter displeasure over the incident saying Russia doesn't respect borders and such acts form a part of the Kremlin's pattern of aggression against Europe. A number of EU member states were also likely to expel diplomats in an effort to curb Putin's spy network.
The EU supported the UK PM by adopting a statement which declared that it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for the poisoning of 66-year-old Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia,33, with a dangerous nerve agent.
Russia has a history of carrying out assassinations on Britain's soil. American intelligence services have linked Russia with over a dozen deaths in the UK over the last two decades.
The latest call for solidarity against Russia is significant for earlier this week, the declaration made by the foreign ministers did not blame Moscow.
Now, Britain's diplomats have started believing that with a number of EU members holding Russia responsible for the Salisbury incident, the UK's stance on Russia becomes stronger and would send Putin a strong message. Countries like France, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia are likely to expel Russian diplomats to strengthen the UK's position.
Brexit and Russia put UK in a paradox
The UK's stance in the wake of the Salisbury incident has an element of paradox in it. Prime Minister May's Brussels visits nowadays (she went there on Thursday to attend a European Council summit) are more linked up with Brexit where nationalism outsmarts internationalism.
But the Salisbury incident has seen the same premier seeking more international solidarity to put up a strong defence against Putin who recently won his fourth presidential term. Here, the British leadership is concerned less about nationalism but cooperation across the borders. Two-faced policy, isn't it?
UK has apprehensions against Russia
The UK has two major apprehensions against Russia. First, it thinks Russia could not just expel British intelligence officers from its territory and reveal their identities and secondly, the UK is dependent on Russian gas especially in winter and because the reserves in Europe have touched the nadir.
This has put the UK in need of a diplomatic front against Russia and May is heard speaking about the need for a "European democracy" where the country would stand shoulder to shoulder with the EU and NATO to face Russian threats.
It will be interesting to see how the UK merges the two distinct narratives that Brexit and Russia bring along. The UK shared intelligence with the EU members following the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats from its soil.
Post-Brexit, data flow could be a concern
Though intelligence flows have little to do with the EU as it happens more on a bilateral basis and both the EU and UK would like to maintain their closeness on this aspect after the divorce, data could be one thing over which the British spies would be concerned post Brexit.
Moving data across borders is a vital task and any hindrance to this flow, which Brexit is likely to create, would pose a challenge, feel officials. The sharing and retaining of data require conforming to EU's privacy safeguards and the UK's initiatives to strengthen the network in the future against the Russian designs could be thwarted by this.