Leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) Diane James says Russian President Vladimir Putin is one of her top three political heroes. Speaking to BBC on Sunday, the newly elected party leader said she admired Putin alongside with former British prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill.
James had previously expressed her admiration for the Russian head of state, telling The Telegraph in an interview last year that Putin was a “strong leader.” “I admire him from the point of view that he’s standing up for his country. He is very nationalist,” she said.
“He is a very strong leader. He is putting Russia first, and he has issues with the way the EU encouraged a change of government in the Ukraine which he felt put at risk a Russian population in that country,” James added. To succeed Nigel Farage as the new UKIP leader, James easily defeated Ramsey councilor Lisa Duffy in a leadership contest on Friday.
Farage stepped down from UKIP’s leadership in late June, days after some 52 percent of Britons decided to end the UK’s membership in the European Union (EU) during a referendum.
In a speech days before her appointment, James had told party members at their annual conference that, “we are the political change movement of the United Kingdom.”
James’ comments mark a departure from Farage’s views on the Russian president. Farage in 2014 described Putin as a “brilliant operator” who had “played the whole Syria thing.” However, he made it clear that the statements did not mean that “I approve of him politically.” Farage even accused Putin of imprisoning journalists.
Relations between London and Moscow have deteriorated in past years over their differences on the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria. Britain has been one of the most fervent supporters of Western sanctions against Russia. The two countries have also been involved in a series of aerial confrontation, with Britain scrambling its jets to intercept Russian bombers on the ground that they were approaching UK airspace.