SCOTTISH and UK ministers have withdrawn their backing for a year-long cultural events project with Russia over the superpower's behaviour in Ukraine.

Neither government is any longer supporting the UK-Russia Year of Culture and ministers will also boycott shows organised as part of the programme.

Russia's invasion of the Crimea earlier this year following internal political problems in Ukraine sparked international outrage.

The tensions were aggravated this month when pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine were blamed for bringing down a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane, killing all 298 people onboard.

World leaders have been considering an appropriate response, including sanctions and freezing the assets of wealthy Russians living overseas.

Scotland, whose food and drink exports to Russia were worth £89 million in 2010, is also under pressure to make a symbolic gesture.

The 2014 Year of Culture was agreed last year by former foreign secretary William Hague and his Russian counterpart.

It involves more than 250 events in both countries, spanning the arts, sport and sciences, with the British Council taking the organisational lead on events in Russia.

Scotland hosted artists, writers and poets from St Petersburg in February, and a co-production between the Chekhov International Theatre Festival and the Edinburgh Festival will take place soon.

The Scottish Government also supported the initiative when it was agreed, with the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, meeting the former Russian consul general in January to discuss the country's role in the project.

The move by the Scottish and UK Governments to distance themselves from the Year of Culture is aimed at signalling disapproval at recent events in Ukraine. However, the Scottish decision may also be viewed as an attempt to make amends for First Minister Alex Salmond's recent comments on Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Salmond was criticised for stating he admired "certain aspects" of Putin's leadership, adding that the Russian leader had restored a "substantial part of Russian pride".

Michael Ostapko, the Scottish chairman of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain, called for Salmond to make an "unequivocal public apology" for his "crass words".

A British Council spokesman said: "We're naturally concerned about the situation in Ukraine and the current political tensions. When political or diplomatic relations become difficult we believe that cultural exchange helps to maintain open dialogue between people and institutions.

"We completely understand and respect the decision of anyone who chooses not to participate. However, as the British Council is a non-political organisation committed to people-to-people engagement, we hope that, wherever possible, exhibitions, shows and performances in Russia will go ahead as planned."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "The Scottish Government is no longer actively supporting the UK/Russia Year of Culture 2014 and Ms Hyslop is not attending any planned Russian events taking place in Scotland under this initiative.

"Cultural performances that were already scheduled to take place both in Scotland and in Russia have been continuing as planned."

A spokesperson for the Foreign & Commonwealth Office said: "In light of the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia, Her Majesty's Government has withdrawn all ministerial and senior official involvement in the Year of Culture. We review all engagement with Russia on an event by event basis."

The Russian Consulate in Edinburgh did not respond to a request for comment.