Kremlin: Britain's 'In' campaign using Putin/Russia in Brexit debate

Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, May 17, 2016. Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/Kremlin via Reuters

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Kremlin said on Wednesday that participants in Britain’s pre-referendum debate over whether to leave the European Union were using “the Russian factor” and President Vladimir Putin to try to score points.

Putin’s spokesman made the comments a day after British Prime Minister David Cameron said he thought Putin “might be happy” if Britons voted to leave the EU in a June 23 referendum.

“We are used to the Russian factor being one of the regular tools used in the U.S. electoral campaign, but for us it’s a new thing that the Russian factor or the President Putin factor is being used in the Brexit debate,” Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, told reporters.

“It is a new phenomenon ... and let’s not forget that President Putin has spoken more than once about our interest in forging good partner-like and mutually beneficial relations with EU nations.”

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said in March that the only country wanting Britain to leave the EU was Russia, while David Cameron has previously said that what he called Putin’s aggression meant it was no time to drop out of the EU.

The Russian embassy in London has complained, saying Moscow was being dragged into an emotive debate and that the Russian government had no opinion on Britain’s place in the EU.

Putin, unlike other world leaders such as U.S. President Barack Obama, has not made his feelings on the Brexit debate public.

Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova and Andrew Osborn; Editing by Dmitry Solovyov