Alex Salmond has had a “warm and constructive” meeting with members of the Ukrainian community who were offended by remarks the First Minister made about Vladimir Putin.
The SNP leader had sparked a row when he stated he admired “certain aspects” of the Russian president.
The Association of Ukrainians claimed the First Minister had left members of their community in Scotland ‘’insulted, dismayed and upset’’ as they demanded an apology from him.
Mr Salmond held private talks with members of the Ukrainian community, along with Ukrainian consul Mykhaylo Osnach, at the Scottish Government’s headquarters in Edinburgh.
The First Minister said afterwards: “Tonight’s meeting with members of the Ukrainian community in Scotland was both warm and constructive. I reiterated the Scottish Government’s position of support and solidarity with the people of Ukraine, as well as expressing my sympathy to those Ukrainians in Scotland who are worried about friends and family at home.
“Recently I wrote to the new President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, to congratulate him on his election victory.
“In that letter and again to those at the meeting tonight, I also expressed that I look forward to a time when tensions in Ukraine are significantly eased and Russia actively pursues a policy of de-escalation. The Scottish Government has made it clear we deplore any efforts to divide Ukraine and we encourage the Russian Federation to refrain from military action.
“In the meantime, it is important that it is known that Scots are playing a significant role in mediation efforts in Ukraine.
“Finally, we also discussed our pride in the bilateral links between our two countries and ways we can further grow our cultural, academic and business ties going forward and I look forward to a continuing dialogue between the Scottish Government and the Ukrainian community.”
In an interview for GQ conducted by Alastair Campbell, Mr Salmond was asked about Mr Putin and 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 said: ‘’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 statement from the Association of Ukrainians in GB’s Edinburgh branch said the First Minister had “expressed disappointment if the reported words may have caused any distress to the Ukrainian community as they did not accord with the official transcription”.
It added: “The First Minister gave a commitment to press the UK Government to elaborate on the recently proposed additional sanctions against Russia. The Ukrainian community had expressed their concerns over the increasing violence and the lack of accurate and impartial reporting. Mr Salmond advised that he would raise this matter with the media concerning the ongoing conflict with Russian backed rebels in eastern Ukraine.
“Mr Salmond also committed to a future visit to the Ukrainian Community Centre in Edinburgh as part of the future development of cultural links between the Scottish Ukrainian Community and the Scottish Government.”