UK INDEPENDENCE Party leader Nigel Farage has named Vladimir Putin as the world leader he most admires, praising the Russian president’s handling of the crisis in Syria.
The eurosceptic MEP had fewer kind words for Angela Merkel, describing the German chancellor – who was given the red-carpet treatment by David Cameron on a visit to London earlier this month – as “incredibly cold”.
He claimed to see little to choose between the leaders of Britain’s three major parties, telling a magazine that he does not “give a damn” whether the Prime Minister or Labour leader Ed Miliband wins next year’s general election.
Mr Farage’s comments emerged just days after the Ukip leader said the European Union had “blood on its hands” for encouraging rebellion in Ukraine, Syria and Libya. While stressing that he did not approve of Mr Putin’s annexation of Crimea, he said European Union leaders had been “weak and vain”, adding: “If you poke the Russian bear with a stick he will respond.”
Asked which current world leader he most admired, Mr Farage replied: “As an operator, but not as a human being, I would say Putin.
“The way he played the whole Syria thing. Brilliant. Not that I approve of him politically. How many journalists in jail now?”
Mr Putin has been blamed by the West for prolonging the Syrian conflict by supplying arms to president Bashar al-Assad and blocking moves to censure or sanction him at the United Nations. He was widely seen to have outwitted the US last year when he brokered a deal under which Damascus agreed to give up its chemical weapons.
On Mrs Merkel, Mr Farage said: “She is incredibly cold. I always say – I agree this is a bit rude – but whatever you think of the public image of Merkel, in private she is even more miserable. I warm to more extrovert people.”
Asked to say “something nice” about the three major party leaders, the normally garrulous Mr Farage was almost lost for words, describing each of them as “nice”.
Mr Cameron is “a perfectly nice fellow who stands four-square for nothing”, Mr Miliband a “nice chap, not very worldly – I would love to see him in a working men’s club in Newcastle”, while Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg – who took on Mr Farage in a TV debate last week – was a “very nice guy, just wrong”.
Mr Farage said there was “absolutely no doubt at all” that the Prime Minister decided to offer an in/out referendum on Britain’s EU membership because of pressure from Ukip, adding: “It was the last thing he wanted to do. He was Mr No, No, No.”
Conservatives have tried to win over Ukip supporters with the argument that the only realistic way to secure the referendum they want is by ensuring Mr Cameron is returned to power in 2015 with an overall majority. Potential Tory defectors are being warned that they risk letting Labour in if they “vote Ukip, get Miliband”.
Mr Farage dismissed the idea that he is hoping for a Conservative victory.
Asked who he would like to win the election, assuming Ukip does not, he replied: “I don’t care… because 100 per cent of the legislation affecting me is made in Brussels.”
Pressed to pick between Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband, Mr Farage said: “Don’t give a damn. Ed has come up with some pretty bonkers ideas.”
Mr Farage was caught out in a TV interview in January when he admitted he did not know many of the policies from Ukip’s 2010 election manifesto.