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Community leaders: Ukrainians living in Scotland have been left insulted, dismayed and upset by Salmond's admiration for Putin

Ukrainians living in Scotland have been left "insulted, dismayed and upset" by Alex Salmond's admiration for the Russian president Vladimir Putin, community leaders said.

Michael Ostapko, of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain, said the Scottish First Minister "should think before he speaks " and also "owes us a sincere apology" for his comments.

He hit out after the SNP leader said he admires ''certain aspects'' of Mr Putin - but does not approve of a range of Russian actions - in an interview with Alastair Campbell, the former Labour strategy director, given on March 14.

Mr Ostapko said: "As the elected representative of the Ukrainian diaspora in Scotland, I have been overwhelmed by the reaction of the Ukrainians in Scotland to his comments.

"They are variously insulted, dismayed and upset that a high-profile politician aspiring to some favoured position in the history of these freedom-loving isles should make poorly-considered, erroneous and mistaken assessments, and to express admiration of a dictatorial and criminal regime."

He said the SNP leader had made the remarks after the "occupation of the Crimean parliament" at the end of February and added: "Mr Salmond's words can only give succour to the perpetrator of such undemocratic action.

"Ukrainians all over the world are appalled at the cynicism and manipulation with which the Russian government is fomenting civil unrest in Ukraine.

"Their aggression and destabilisation is being carried out with arms, deliberate provocations and the ugliest campaign of disinformation that the world has seen since the end of the Cold War."

Mr Ostapko said western countries should give "much more concrete assistance" to Ukraine, adding: "Now, more than ever, Ukraine needs action rather than words and dialogue must be from a position of strength.

"Any weakness of response will be seen by president Putin and his closest ex-security services advisers as carte blanche to push into Ukraine and try to create a puppet state subservient to Russia rather than the will of the Ukrainian people. That would be a tragedy for the world, not just for Ukraine."

Mr Ostapko, who has written to the First Minister about his remarks, said: "Mr Salmond has to think before he speaks and he owes us a sincere apology."

Mr Salmond's comments, in an interview for GQ magazine, have already prompted an angry reaction, with UK Foreign Secretary William Hague claiming the First Minister had made a ''gross error of judgement in international relations'' by paying tribute to Russia.

Siobhan Reardon, the programme director for Amnesty International Scotland also hit out, saying: "Mr Salmond should reserve his admiration for those worthy of it, not those who trample over human rights and flout international law."

In the interview, Mr Salmond said: "Well, obviously, I don't approve of a range of Russian actions, but I think Putin's more effective than the press he gets, I would have thought, and you can see why he carries support in Russia.''

Pressed on whether he admires the Russian leader, the First Minister stated: "'Certain aspects. He's restored a substantial part of Russian pride and that must be a good thing.

"There are aspects of Russian constitutionality and the inter-mesh with business and politics that are obviously difficult to admire. Russians are fantastic people, incidentally, they are lovely people.''

A spokesman for the First Minister said Mr Salmond would reply directly to Mr Ostapko "making clear, as he did in the GQ interview, that he disapproves 'of a range of Russian actions'."

The spokesman added: "The Scottish Government is entirely opposed to the Russian government's stance on human rights, homosexuality and indeed the illegal annexation of Crimea.

"Since this interview was conducted the Scottish Government has made our position abundantly clear on the illegal annexation, including the decision to withdraw the invitation to the Russian Consul General to the annual Scottish Consular Corps dinner.

"Indeed, the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs met with the new Russian consul on March 13 to make clear the Scottish Government's condemnation of Russia's actions on human rights and homosexuality.

"The Scottish Government has a firm and enduring belief there is no place for prejudice or discrimination - in Scotland or any other part of the world - and we strongly condemn human rights abuses wherever they take place."

Yesterday the row over Alex Salmond's ­admiration for certain aspects of Vladimir Putin's leadership intensified with senior politicians lining up to condemn the First Minister's "gross error of judgment".

He was called on to apologise to the people of Ukraine.

The condemnation, which ­overshadowed the SNP leader's keynote speech on Europe, coincided with ­publication by the UK Government of its latest referendum factsheet, showing how Scotland "can do more, reach further and aim higher on the international stage as part of the UK".

During a Commons update on the Ukrainian crisis, Scottish Labour's William Bain suggested Scots would be "horrified" by Mr Salmond's comments, which showed, when it came to his "claims that rising Russian nationalism is a force for good in the world", he did not speak for Scotland.

Mr Hague agreed and added: "To pay tribute even as Russia was annexing by force the Crimea, to pay tribute to the restoration of pride in Russia is a gross error of judgment in international relations and very concerning in the attitude of the Scottish National Party."

Out of Westminster, Amnesty ­International Scotland expressed its concern, saying "Salmond should not take pride in praise of Putin" and listing how the Russian President had violated the human rights of Russians; closing down democratic dissent through repression.

The First Minister's contentious remarks came in an interview in the May edition of GQ magazine, conducted in mid-March. Asked about the Russian President, Mr Salmond made clear he did "not approve of a range of Russian actions" but admitted Mr Putin was "more effective than the press he gets and you can see why he carries support in Russia".

Pressed on whether he admired Mr Putin, the SNP leader replied: "Certain aspects. He's restored a substantial part of Russian pride and that must be a good thing."

Yesterday, Jim Murphy, the Shadow International Development Secretary, denounced the First Minister's "incredible comments in praise of President Putin on the very same day that the world was warning about the build-up of Russian troops and armoured columns".

During Commons exchanges, Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Liberal Democrat leader, said the First Minister had shown a "disturbing lack of judgment".

Last night, Mr Salmond hit back, with his spokesman saying: "The First Minister agrees with Amnesty International, which is why he made clear in the interview that he disapproves of a 'range of Russian actions'.

"The Scottish Government is entirely opposed to the Russian Government's stance on human rights, homosexuality and, indeed, the illegal annexation of Crimea."

He insisted the Scottish Government had a "firm and enduring belief there is no place for prejudice or discrimination in Scotland or any other part of the world and we strongly condemn human rights abuses wherever they take place On the issue of Russia, we will take no lectures from Tory, Labour and Liberal politicians."

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