Vladimir Putin is the world leader who is most admired by the head of Britain’s anti-European Union party because of the Russian president’s “brilliant” handling of the Syria crisis, Nigel Farage said in an interview published on Monday.
“The way he played the whole Syria thing. Brilliant. Not that I approve of him politically. How many journalists in jail now?” the head of Britain’s UK Independence Party (UKIP) was quoted as saying.
Putin has kept Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power, repeatedly blocked U.N. attempts to condemn him and supplied arms for the government side in a civil war in which over 100,000 people have died.
Farage also derided German chancellor Angela Merkel, calling her “miserable” and “cold”.
The most powerful female politician in the world got short shrift from Farage, who 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.”
Speaking to Tony Blair’s former spin doctor Alistair Campbell for GQ magazine, Farage explained: “I warm to more extrovert people.”
Britain’s top politicians also got a verbal lashing from the 49-year-old former trader. Labour’s leader Ed Miliband was described as “unworldly”; PM David Cameron as a “perfectly nice fellow who stands four square for nothing”; while Nick Clegg was “just wrong”.
Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who last week went head-to-head with Farage in a televised policy debate about Europe, heavily criticised Farage’s comments.
“I just think it’s utterly grotesque that Nigel Farage apparently admires… Vladimir Putin, who has been the chief sponsor and protector of one of the most brutal dictators of the face of the planet, President Assad,” Clegg told reporters.
Farage, a former commodities trader who revels in stoking controversy, has lambasted the EU for its handling of the Ukraine crisis, saying the bloc had provoked Russia into intervention in its neighbour and had “blood on its hands”.
Those comments also drew censure from Britain’s political establishment, which accused Farage of being an apologist for Russia’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea Russian-majority region after mass protests toppled Ukraine’s pro-Russian president.
Western countries say Russia’s annexation of Crime is illegal under international law and have imposed punitive sanctions on Moscow.