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Alex Salmond’s strange – but revealing – admiration for Vladimir Putin

28 April 2014

12:03 PM

28 April 2014

12:03 PM

What to make of Alex Salmond’s qualified admiration for Vladimir Putin? The First Minister, interviewed for the forthcoming issue of GQ, declared he admires “certain aspects” of the Russian President’s record. Asked for his views on Putin, Salmond told Alastair Campbell that:

“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.

“[…] 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.”

Well, some of them anyway.  Anyway, cue outrage all over the place from all the usual suspects.

There are many reasons why foreign policy will not have much, if any, impact on September’s referendum and not the least of them is that an independent Scotland will not have much in the way of a distinct foreign policy anyway. It will, doubtless, be able to do some good at the margin and be a “good global citizen” (whatever that means) and that is all very well and good. There is certainly nothing discreditable about such ambitions.

And yet and with all that being as it may there remains something interesting about Salmond’s contradictory instincts in the field of international affairs. As I have remarked before, the SNP’s instincts are to deny the United Kingdom – and the West more generally – the benefit of the doubt while extending that doubt to other less obviously free or fair countries especially if or when they become the “targets” of western action. If you think this sits a little uncomfortably with the party’s recent, suspiciously convenient, desire to join NATO you might well have a point.

Still, let it be noted that Salmond is obviously correct on at least one point: it is not difficult to see why Putin should be popular in Russia. Russian elections are neither wholly free nor fair but Putin would probably win even if he did not deal from a stacked deck. It is also probably true, as Salmond says, that Putin has “restored a substantial part of Russian pride” though less obviously true that, from a non-Russian perspective, this is necessarily a good thing.

Putin is a nationalist, of course, and so is Salmond. The First Minister won his narrow victory in 2007 in large part because he persuaded sufficient numbers of Scots that only the SNP could properly stand up for Scotland. The national interest, he promised, would determine his party’s decisions in government and it remains the case that plenty of voters who otherwise have little time for Salmond concede that he has consistently acted in pursuit and defence of what he considers, rightly or not, Scotland’s interests to be. His idea of the national interest may differ from yours but many voters who do not support the SNP can concede that Salmond’s idea of the national interest is plausibly honest.

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So you can see why he might have an instinctive (if qualified) admiration for other leaders who can – with varying degrees of ruthlessness – be considered in similar light.

And yet – and here we discover an illuminating difference in standard – it remains the case that the SNP find Britain’s aspirations to “Great Power” status both ridiculous and distasteful. The UK clings to faded imperial “glory” and looks absurd. It should face reality and accept the world has changed. The world has moved on and so should Britain. Come in Colonel Blimp, your time was up long ago.

Fine. If that’s the sort of thing you like it’s the sort of thing you like. But Putin’s policy – both domestic and abroad – is designed to reassert Russia’s place as a Great Power. The collapse of the Soviet Union – that is, of Russia’s internal empire – was a calamity and if the USSR cannot be revived Russian pride can and Putin’s Eurasian Union, the next best thing to the USSR, will have to do what it can to compensate for that tragedy [sic].

In other words, British aspirations to play a modestly leading role in the world are absurd but Russian desires to revive faded imperial grandeur are not and, in fact, the kind of pride-boosting measures that demand a certain admiration.

This does not, of course, make Mr Salmond Mr Putin’s useful idiot (even though the Kremlin might well be one of the few foreign governments keen to see Scotland secede from the United Kingdom). But there is, as I say, a distinction between the SNP’s suspicion of the UK – and, naturally, the United States – and the relative pass it gives some other countries.

Doubtless the nationalists might say that this is because we expect better from our friends than we do from our opponents. There is something to this. But it is an argument that would be more impressive if there were more evidence that the nationalists appreciated that there is actually a difference between our friends and enemies. Or, indeed, that there are enemies at all. Hard power, as Vladimir Putin understands, still matters.

Salmond gave his GQ interview on March 14th, before the formal annexation of the Crimea but at a time when that annexation was plainly about to happen. “I don’t approve of a range of Russian actions” gives the First Minister some wiggle room but he is a sufficiently experienced politician to have known that it would have been sensible to be rather more explicit on this front.

Hypocrisy is an inescapable feature of foreign policy, especially (but not exclusively) when or if a country has aspirations to play a leading role in world events. We need not make a virtue of it but nor must we be ashamed of it. Purity – and sanctimony – is the preserve of those with no battalions.

Again, however, it is worth observing that if Salmond’s scepticism about the UK and the United States has sometimes seemed prescient this too comes at a price. A price measured in a certain naivete (I put it no more strongly than that) when measuring or judging the actions of less free, less decent nations.

 

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Show comments
  • Scradje

    Perhaps Wee Eck has a secret admiration of Putin’s parliamentary system; ie one that does not tolerate dissent. Or perhaps maybe he would like to mirror Putin’s almost total control of the media?

  • dougthedug

    “The First Minister, interviewed for the forthcoming issue of GQ, declared he admires “certain aspects” of the Russian President’s record. Asked for his views on Putin, Salmond told Alastair Campbell…”

    You use an interesting twist of words here Alistair. Weasel words are perhaps the best way to describe it. From the quotes in the Telegraph Article Alex Salmond didn’t volunteer any admiration of Putin, he was, “Pressed on whether he admires the Russian leader…”, and he actually gave an honest assessment on Putin’s leadership in Russia.

    Despite the content of your article there is nowhere in the published quotes where he declares he admires Vladimir Putin.

  • dougthedug

    “Putin is a nationalist, of course, and so is Salmond.”

    Interesting Alex. Can you tell me of one international leader who isn’t a nationalist? One leader who doesn’t really believe that their country should exist or that their primary purpose is not to serve their country but their neighbour’s country?

    Miliband and Cameron are as nationalist as Salmond. Probably more so.

    • Cooper1992

      Ahahahahahah! Seriously??

      Miliband and Cameron don’t give a damn about the country. Putin would put his life on the line for it (Salmond perhaps would too)

      If the ‘nasty evil Satanist’ Russian troops ever came-a-knockin’ on the shores of Kent, then you can bet Clegg, Miliband and Cameron would be on the first British Airways flight to The Bahamas.

      • dougthedug

        You don’t see Miliband and Cameron from a Scottish perspective. Both as nationalist as Salmond, just for a different country.

  • Holly

    I caught a bit of this bod on the Parliament channel,(while working out what ‘stuff’ I am going to buy for my home makeover in May, out of the money I save from not smoking) and my god….Rome/the theatre must surely regret missing this guy.

  • andagain

    It’s not strange at all. It is perfectly natural that Salmond (and Farage) should admire Putin. They are, after all, nationalists. If they were in his position, they would want to act in a similar way, perhaps while pontificating more about democracy.

  • allymax bruce

    Alex Massie, so how was the holiday?
    Cricket anybetter?
    No?

  • Tony Collins

    Massie- this is getting ridiculous now. Could you not have written something about Salmond’s love-bombing of the rUK from Carlisle the other day or his praise for the EU from Bruges today? From both he said more and more of consequence, writing an article from some casual and understandable remarks on Putin makes you sound ridiculous and irrelevant.

  • MichtyMe

    Can’t see the “admiration” bit, just an observation on Putin and Russia which sounds reasonable.

  • scotcanadien

    F1ck me! This interview was done six, I say again SIX, weeks ago. And yet Massie thinks it is news. It is just sly scaremongering. Massie, come out of the slime. Are there no barrels low enough for you to scrape?

    • allymax bruce

      It’s tongue-in-cheek, from Massie.

    • Alex Massie

      No. Well, probably not.

    • dougthedug

      This “news” is just a spoiler for Alex Salmond’s speech in Bruges.

  • Andrew Morton

    Plainly I should now abandon my long held aspiration for Scottish independence and vote ‘Naw’. Damn that Alex Salmond!

  • The Laughing Cavalier

    Perhaps Salmond could take Scotland in to Putin’s Eurasian Union and adopt the Rouble in place of the Euro or Sterling. I expect Putin would pay handsomely to rent Faslane.

  • rjbh

    One wonders whats to admire about British Foreign policy, we have attacked 2countries in the last 15 years and won neither of them, yet caused both countries endless chaos. Thank God that Salmond did not say he admired Blair Brown or Hague and Cameron. Bless you Alex Salmond.

    • The Laughing Cavalier

      More than 2.

      • rjbh

        We wont count the “Suicide” of DR Kelly and Willie McCray, and Hilda Morrow.

    • Baron

      In Britain’s illustrious history, rjbh, out of the world’s 193 countries, only 22 have never been invaded by us.

    • Cyril Sneer

      ” we have attacked 2countries in the last 15 years”

      And the rest!

  • Colonel Mustard

    I wish people would focus on what was actually said instead of what the detractors imagine was said in order to fuel the faux outrage lobby. Britain is rapidly turning into a giant Twitter site populated by polarised cretins where everyone is either lemming “liked” or hysterically “disliked”.

    Salmond is a consumate and skilled politician whose nationalist credentials speak for themselves. He should be able to present a nuanced opinion about Putin without being mobbed for it.

    • Baron

      hear, hear, Colonel.

    • allymax bruce

      Campbell fcuked-up; Campbell has made Alex’ Salmond even more impregnable.

      • Holly

        Sounded like a jumped up oaf from my kitchen….

        • allymax bruce

          Hmmm, you should’ve actually listened to him from your frontroom, he sounded much better there.

      • Mc

        I expect Salmond always was impregnable.

    • telemachus

      You seem to crow about how much you are liked compared with reasonable posters

      • Inverted Meniscus

        Well as you are totally unreasonable, ludicrous, vacuous and pointless I don’t expect the Colonel will lose much sleep.

    • AtMyDeskToday

      Good Lord, you ain’t half mellowed Colonel. Keep it up.

      • Colonel Mustard

        Not at all. I have become more radicalised.

        • AtMyDeskToday

          OK, but I “like” your new style (in a kind of Facebook way).

  • classieview

    Is there still an embargo about mentioning the relevance of events in the 1930s to where we are now, or is Alex’s applause for Ptuin’s confidence-building exploits simply one populist admiring another for his flawless technique?

  • CraigStrachan

    There’ll be green men occupying Berwick Town Hall before you know it.

    • Barakzai

      But first the EU will confer minority nationhood status on the town . . .

  • e2toe4

    The idea that ‘sticking up for one’s national identity’ is a such a ‘good thing’, that it can can trump any other consideration is obviously behind this ill judged pronouncement.

    However,maybe Mr Salmond is the ideal person to offer his services to broker a deal between the Ukraine and Russia,, and Mr Putin will no doubt provide him with a form of words on a treaty to wave from the steps of his plane for the photo-op on his return to Edinburgh airport after achieving peace in our time.

  • Andrew Morton

    I admire certain aspects of Hitler’s moustache. Does that make me naive or a mass murderer?

    • CraigStrachan

      No, it makes you gay.

      • Kennybhoy

        Stop it! lol 🙂

        • CraigStrachan

          :o)

    • Baron

      It makes you, Andrew, a man of no taste.

  • Tom Tom

    1984 has Oceania at war with Eurasia and Obama is working hard to make it come to pass

  • john

    Each week I think the Speccie must have found its absolute last reason to be against Scottish Independence but no here’s another. Apparently Salmond likes Putin (probaly ot true but so what). This must be the last surely?

    • asalord

      Here’s hoping, John. Doubt it, though.
      Another Zinoviev Letter to come?

      • Kitty MLB

        Well, Mr grumpy, pickled haggis features. Maybe all the pointless
        attacks on both sides should stop and everything should now be about numbers and facts- I am also sure Mr Salmond would prefer that,
        Its not as if its helping him and creating a shroud in which to hide behind and avoid difficult questions.
        I am sure its not just about winning independence then afterwards ,
        game over ( the names on the tin and all that )

  • GUBU

    A decade from now, when public buildings in Carlisle have been seized by masked men with Glaswegian accents clutching bottles of Buckfast, we won’t be able to say we weren’t warned…

    Just spare us the topless photographs, Mr Salmond.

    • CraigStrachan

      What you describe already happens in Blackpool on a regular basis. Or so I’m telt.

      • Kennybhoy

        lol

      • GUBU

        But now, thanks to Mr Massie, we suspect that these drunken binges are not, as they claim, ‘holidays’, but preparatory exercises which will eventually culminate in the invasion and occupation of much of northern England.

        You know how these things start.

        Mark my words, one day England will tremble as two hundred thousand sportswear clad ‘Weegies’, their blue bags groaning under the weight of cheap alcohol. gather along its border, whilst President Salmond, with his carefully coiffed Kim Jong Un haircut and wearing a tartan Field Marshal’s uniform of his own design, publicly disavows any interest in annexing Cumbria.

        We’ll wish we’d given him his currency union then…

    • allymax bruce

      So, you don’t want me to steal your sheep?
      Just tell me; I can take it.

  • HookesLaw

    Salmond shows again how he and Forage are basically so similar.

    • dougthedug

      Salmond shows again how he and Forage are basically so similar.

      I’ve never thought of Salmond as herbivorous animal fodder. Are you a farmer?

  • Kitty MLB

    Oh you don’t admire that bare backed riding twerp do you Mr Salmond.
    A hobnail boot wearing scoundrel. Please reconsider and admire someone else.
    What about Margaret Thatcher. ( no negative responses please )

    • con

      Unfortunately she was British, worse, English.

      • Tom Tom

        She did wage war to keep some islands in another hemisphere whose physical connection with Britain is unclear…….

        • Greenslime

          Er, because the people who inhabit those islands do not choose to live under the Argentinian yoke

          • Kitty MLB

            Yes indeed, and to this day those people say they are proudly
            British. Argentina are only interested in the Falklands oil.
            And thankfully we had a strong Prime Minister who stood
            up for the correct people unlike Blair pandering around on the
            world stage with his little wars in middle eastern countries.

            • Tom Tom

              What connection does an island in the southern hemisphere have with an island in the northern hemiphere ?

          • Tom Tom

            That is exactly what Sudeten-Germans said about Czechoslovakia in 1938

          • terregles2

            Seems you have great respect for the political aspirations of the Falkland islanders and nothing but resentment and contempt for the political aspirations of the Scottish population.

    • rjbh

      Kitty.. You can be sure without Thatcher Scotland would not now have its own Parliament, and therefore NO Campaign for independence under Alex Salmond, credit where its due, well done Thatcher, you were the gel that is bringing about Indy Scotland.

      • Kitty MLB

        Indeed. apologies if I am wrong but did Blair not start us on this journey. Breaking up the United Kingdom and handing us on
        a silver plate to Brussels.

        • rjbh

          kitty, its true Blair can claim the credit, alas the wise thinking of Blair, and Lord George Robertson, that a Scottish parliament under Westminster control, would “Kill the SNP stone dead” as wee geordie put it

          The democracy that Westminster allowed us was rigged so that one party could never gain total control of Holyrood, they of course could not forsee the landslide to the SNP in May 2011 that blew their therory out of the water

  • you_kid

    I preferred the Mugabe jibe.

  • Baron

    If the world was fuller of politicians like Salmond and Putin we would all be better off for their take on a range of issues resonates with the great unwashed everywhere. They have no need to rely on mendacity, half-truths and coercion through law.

    • Kennybhoy

      Oh Baron… 🙁

      • Baron

        One must stir up a hornet nest or two, Kennyboy, the stings may do alot of good, even induce a drop of thinking.

    • con

      Do you include Mugabe in your fan club?

      • Baron

        No, Baron doesn’t, because this one has about as much common sense as those in charge here. Take the issue of homosexuality, he occupies one of the extreme corners, the boy here the other. Baron’s middle ground as are the majority of the unwashed everywhere.

    • Kitty MLB

      Putin ? Baron is usually such a insightful chap, honestly.

      • Kennybhoy

        Tell me about it…

      • Baron

        You never hear either of the two say things like ‘The international community demands, rejects, will not stand for …’ The one bats for Scotland, the other for the Ruskies. That’s how it should be. If we those in charge here did the same, we wouldn’t mourn almost 500 young lives lost in Afghanistan. And for what? The benefit of the international community?

    • Iamfatman

      One week Russia tells us their were no extra troops, in Crimea and that it was locals who were armed and in uniform. A few weeks later Mr. Putin admits that there were troops in Crimea who were armed and enabled the take over of the area. Forget mendacity, half-truths and coercion through law, how about outright lies and coercion at the point of a gun.

      • Baron

        All politicians lie all the time, lamfatman, yet there’s a massive difference in what for, some do it for the benefit of those who voted for them (Crimea), others because they want to re-engineer the human sole (marriage is an institution of love).

        Could you also point out where did the one who loves to strip to the waist said the Russian troops ‘enabled the takeover of Crimea’, please).

    • allymax bruce

      Yeh, and the 99% would certainly overthrow the 1%.

  • PeteCW

    Big bullying nationalist thug admired by small bullying nationalist thug shock!

    • Tom Tom

      Internationalist thugs bomb Belgrade, occupy Iraq, occupy Afghanistan, feed weapons into Syria, bomb Libya and create mayhem and terror. There are reasons for politicians and generals in Britain to face War Crimes Court

      • Kennybhoy

        FSB shill right on time! 🙂

        • Tom Tom

          What are you Kennybhoy, Persecutor of Palestinians ?

          • Kennybhoy

            Jesus wept! Forget FSB. That one is straight out of the Okhrana playbook…

      • Iamfatman

        weapons into Syria, that’s Russia surely. Occupy Afghanistan, yes Russia did for a number of years, Occupy parts of a foreign country ie. Crimea, Georgia Russia did. Support Belgrade in trying to annihilate Croatians, Russia did. Nationalism is the scourge of mankind, and led us into two world wars, genocide, and the killing of millions.

        • asalord

          The evil of British nationalism will be much reduced when Scotland regains its independence.

          • telemachus

            You have no chance
            The powerful Labour machine has been turned on at grass roots level
            Forget personalities present
            The Glaswegian scot reveres the memory of Kier Hardie

            • allymax bruce

              Wrong move; The Labour Party should never have told the Trade-Unions to avow a particular way; it’s all over for the BitterTogether campaign now.

              • telemachus

                Sorry son the visceral socialist support in Glasgow is inviolable

                • Holly

                  That’s why they booted Labour out….Good old Alex promised them more…

                • terregles2

                  Indeed many in Glasgow and the central belt are voting for Independence as they want rid of the Trident nuclear arsenal that is stored less than 30 miles from Glasgow.
                  The recent MOD report on the safety of Trident have increased the numbers of people wanting it removed from Scotland.

                  Many more have deserted Labour when Alistair Darling spoke on the platform at the Tory party conference.
                  Many more are worried that UKIP might have big wins in EWNI and Mr Farage would have some influence over the government of Scotland.
                  Many do not trust Miliband and would never vote for him.
                  Others are concerned that on the event of a no vote Scotland might be voted out of the EU in the UK 2017 EU referendum.
                  You seem rather obsessed by Alex Salmond. Many YES voters are not SNP supporters. Many are voting YES but never have and never will vote SNP. There are over five political parties in Scotland campaigning hard for a YES vote.

                • allymax bruce

                  Telemachus, I’ve got to agree with Holly (below); Alex’ Salmond has ‘out-socialised’ Socialist Labour in Scotland!

          • Holly

            And if it doesn’t want it????

        • Tom Tom

          Actually it is Libyan weapons run in a CIA pipeline which is why their ambassador lost his life. Turkey is pumping weapons and officers into Syria and Saudi is supplying manpads and TOW missiles

      • Holly

        …AND….Alex Salmond…..

      • S&A

        Russian thugs armed Belgrade and its militias in the 1990s, invaded Afghanistan and massacred 1m Afghans during the 1980s, armed Bashar al-Assad and Colonel Gaddafi, and created mayhem and terror.

        Where are the war crimes trials for the vlasti, comrade?

    • asalord

      From The Scotsman 28/4/14:

      “Russian state news agency Itar-Tass
      had last week reported an anonymous source in David Cameron’s office
      saying that Britain were seeking support from Russia on the Scottish
      independence debate and pulling troops out of Afghanistan. These claims
      were reported by the Sunday Herald.

      The original report, issued on
      Hogmanay, said: “Great Britain is extremely interested in the support
      of Russia, as holder of the G8 presidency, in two vital areas in 2014:
      the Afghan pull-out and the Scottish independence referendum.”

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