File photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and British Prime Minister David Cameron

Russian President Vladimir Putin has suggested British Prime Minister David Cameron may have called a referendum on whether the UK should remain in the European Union (EU) “to blackmail Europe.”

In his first major intervention in the Brexit debate, Putin said Friday that Cameron had called the referendum to “scare” Europe.

“As for the prime minister of the UK, there is a great problem with Brexit, why did he initiate this vote in the first place? Why did he do that? So he wanted to blackmail Europe or to scare someone, what was the goal if he was against?” Putting said in St. Petersburg.

However, Putin refused to say which side he supported and said the decision is “the business of the people of the UK.”

“I want to say it is none of our business, it is the business of the people of the UK. I have my own opinion on this matter, I cannot talk about the result yet – no one knows about the result yet, I think it is 50-50 with a certain margin of error.”

The Russian president denied speculations that Moscow would benefit from Britain’s possible decision to leave the EU.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with foreign businessmen at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in Saint Petersburg, June 17, 2016. (AFP photo)

Some politicians, including Cameron and British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, have speculated that Putin would welcome the prospect of Britain leaving the EU, as it would weaken the political bloc.

“I don’t think this is very proper to engage Russia in all the problems, even if we are not involved in it, to make Russia a scarecrow,” Putin said. “Civilized people do not do things this way.”

Most political experts and international leaders who have spoken out about the Brexit debate have urged Britain to stay in the bloc. US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have both urged the UK to remain.

Britain will hold a referendum on June 23 on whether the country should remain a member of the 28-memebr union.

Membership of the European Union has been a controversial issue in the UK since the country joined the then European Economic Community in 1973.