I met that Vladimir Putin once. In Edinburgh Castle of all places. He came to the city 15 years ago during his state visit to the UK and my then boss and First Minister, Jack McConnell, showed him round.
Putin seemed a perfectly normal bloke. Small and not very smiley, but he gave no sign that he was an evil despot, hell-bent on world domination.
In fact, during his speech in the Signet Library, he said the best way for the world to deal with threats such as organised crime, international terrorism and conflict was through solidarity between nations.
“We should adequately respond to this challenge and the most adequate mechanism to respond is solidarity,” he said.
“That can only be done by cooperation and trust.”
Excuse me while I choke on my toast and marmalade. Solidarity. Trust. Cooperation.
This is a man who doesn’t bemoan “fake news” on Twitter, but whose critics – like rival politician Boris Nemtsov and journalist Anna Politkovskaya – have a nasty habit of getting themselves murdered. A man who, it would appear, orders the assassination of his fellow Russians living in the UK, using deadly chemical weapons, because, well, because he can.
And a man who, with his oligarch friends, has systematically looted his country of its wealth, so that he is now, reputedly, one of the richest people in the world.
Oh, and don’t forget the small matter of Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election and the Brexit vote, and helping his pal Bashar Assad murder thousands of Syrian men, women and children in their beds.
Solidarity? Trust? Cooperation? Putin? Fifteen years is definitely a very long time in politics.
In 2003, Tony Blair was Prime Minister, and popular. Scottish independence wasn’t even a glint in Nicola Sturgeon’s eye. We were all proud of our maroon European passports, and Donald Trump had just embarked on his reality TV career.
Oh, and Alex Salmond, once seen as the Braveheart of the SNP, had abandoned Scotland and its new parliament and scurried back down to London where he seemed more at home.
Today, Mr Salmond seems equally at home in the studio of Putin’s propaganda TV station, Russia Today or RT as it has been re-branded.
Our former First Minister and ex-Tory turned SNP MP Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh have a chat show on RT, where Mr Salmond, dressed in natty made-to-measure tweed, talks over his guests while preening himself in front of the Russian-sponsored cameras.
It clearly doesn’t bother him that his paymaster is one Vladimir Putin.
He has resisted calls from all sides – including his own – to cut his ties with RT following the attempted murder of Salisbury resident Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia by a Russian assassination squad.
RT is just the same as the BBC and Sky, he booms, convincing no one, not even himself.
And he seems even less convinced than Jeremy Corbyn that Putin was responsible for the Salisbury chemical weapon attack.
He is entitled to his view, I suppose. There are some people, apparently, who believe Skripal was attacked by British agents in an attempt to whip up anti-Russian feeling. Or that the Russian mafia was responsible.
I am sure there are even those who argue that it was the butler who did it.
No, I don’t care what Salmond believes happened in Salisbury. But I do care that a former First Minister of Scotland is, proudly, in the pay of President Putin’s TV station.
Putin abandoned all pretence of solidary between nations years ago. He is a ruthless, immoral despot who will use any means at his disposal to make Russia great again.
He is, effectively, at war with the West.
And as a former KGB man, he knows better than anyone that propaganda is an effective weapon of mass destruction.
As long as Alex Salmond continues to appear on Russian telly, he is a foot-soldier in Putin’s battle with the UK.
Hardly the most fitting role for a former First Minister of Scotland.