RUSSIA, said Winston Churchill, is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

As Alex Salmond has learned this week, it's also a gaffe at the bottom of an elephant trap covered in banana skins.

Since the First Minister voiced his qualified admiration for Vladimir Putin in a interview, his rivals have been accusing him of insensitivty and bad judgment.

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What about Ukraine? What about the Crimea? Did Florence Nightingale fight that shark in vain?

For Mr Salmond's knowledge of world affairs has always been creaky ("It's flat, right?"), and his opponents know there's only one thing to do with a weak spot - batter it.

First to pummel at FMQs yesterday, smile as cold as Siberia, Johann Lamont read out Amnesty International's rap sheet against Bad Vlad.

Would the FM apologise? asked Labour's leader.


He should have stopped there, but instead Mr Salmond offered a ropey retrospective defence that would have made Just William blush.

When he said he admired "certain aspects" of Putin, all he'd meant was the Winter Olympics. It wasn't Vlad in the saddle with his pecs out, or putting the West in a headlock, it was the luge, curling and the snowboard halfpipe.

This is what we in the trade call utter pants.

After Ms Lamont read an anguished letter from the Ukranian community in Scotland, Mr Salmond lunged for his Break Glass in Case of Kicking and Blame the Union panel.

But Better Together took £500,000 from a bloke whose firm deals with Rosneft, whose boss is on the US banned list, he declared randomly.

Next, Tory Ruth Davidson marched on Salmondgrad.

How can we trust the FM on the global stage "when he so consistently gets it wrong?"

His face betraying mounting rage, Mr Salmond lashed out at parties with nothing to say "until they sensed a political opportunity".

Last in the troika, LibDem Willie Rennie said Putin had "lapped up" Mr Salmond's praise.

"The First Minister wants us to stand tall in the world, but does he not just look small?"

He didn't look small, just scarlet, as he went on about cosy UK-Russian relations.

His own troops loved it, others not at all.

Red Salmond is clearly an acquired taste.