A VOTE to leave the European Union would be greeted in Moscow as “payday for Putin”, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has warned.
Mr Fallon said the Russian leader would welcome a “smaller, weaker” EU without UK leadership and that a vote for Brexit would have implications for the collective security of the West.
“To walk away from that kind of leadership exactly when we need to be strong against Russia seems to me an extraordinarily irresponsible thing to do and a very dangerous moment to do it. Putin would certainly be voting Leave,” he said.
“There is a huge amount hanging on this vote on June 23, not just for the people of this country but for the collective security of Europe and the West.”
Giving evidence to the Commons Defence Committee, Mr Fallon said the UK had been instrumental in securing effective EU sanctions against Russia over its incursions against Ukraine.
“You would never have had sanctions if it was left to a fragmented Europe. I am quite sure that without us the European Union would have imposed weaker sanctions,” he said.
“It is only by standing up to Russia as a union of 28 that they are paying any kind of price at all for what they did in the Crimea and the Ukraine.”
Mr Fallon said the lead role played by the UK in the sanctions debate meant the Kremlin was “not neutral” about the referendum.
“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that a British exit from the European Union would be absolutely applauded in Moscow. A smaller, weaker Europe is absolutely payday for Putin. Russia is not neutral about Britain in Europe,” he said.
“It is Britain that has championed the open energy market that has reduced the dependence of the eastern states on Russian gas.
“It is Britain that has promoted association agreements through the European Union with former Soviet bloc countries and we have taken the lead on sanctions.”