Vladimir Putin has sparked yet another Scottish political row by announcing a major honour for tycoon Sir Angus Grossart.
In a formal Kremlin decree, the Russian president said the millionaire banker would be awarded the prestigious Pushkin medal for unspecified contributions to the arts.
The announcement comes amid heightened tensions between the London and Moscow governments following the attempted murder of double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia using an illegal nerve agent.
It also follows dramatically worsening relations between the SNP and the Kremlin amid growing concerns that the Russian government has sought to use social media and its propaganda channels to destabilise Scottish politics.
A spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives said: “After everything the Russian state has been responsible for in recent times, it would be regrettable if our leading business figures indulged Vladimir Putin by accepting awards like this.”
Sir Angus could not be reached for comment on the award, though his office confirmed it was a “cultural order”.
It is not known if he will Travel to the Kremlin to collect his Pushkin medal, which has been awarded since 1999 and is named after the 19th century poet Alexander Pushkin.
Sir Angus is one of a dozen foreigners honoured in a presidential decree. He and a retired naval officer are the first Scots to receive a Pushkin medal.
The 81-year-old is one of Scotland’s most influential businessmen with estimated net worth of around £250 million.
He chairs the merchant bank Noble Grossart and the lobby and PR group Charlotte Street Partners.
Sir Angus has a long history of working in the arts. As chairman of The National Museums of Scotland, he welcomed an exhibition of works from St Petersburg’s Hermitage gallery to Edinburgh in 2011.
He has also recently personally donated £1m to Glasgow’s Burrell Collection renovations.
Despite sanctions following the invasion and annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, Scottish and British cultural co-operation with Russia continues.
Many commentators stress the need for politics not to get in the way of normal contacts with Russia. However, Mr Putin has become increasingly politically toxic in recent years.
Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said there were “legitimate areas” for arts co-operation but added: “Everyone operating in Russia should do so as transparently as possible and tread very carefully when accepting awards from Mr Putin.”
Russia under Mr Putin has revamped the nation’s honour system with new awards harking back to the pre-revolutionary glory of the Russian court.
Presidential patronage has become a powerful tool of influence in recent years, both for domestic and international audiences.
Sir Angus’s medal comes after former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond was recruited to front a weekly show on what many have described as Putinist propaganda TV station RT.
Other Scottish figures, including George Galloway and Tommy Sheridan, have also been brought in to contribute to controversial Russian TV stations.
Mr Galloway has contributed to RT while it emerged in September that Mr Sheridan had been signed up to Sputnik UK.
A think-tank fronted by Sir Angus, Scotland International, last year invited American far-right activist and Trump ally Steve Bannon, widely regarded as a white nationalist, to speak at Gleneagles.
A picture of the event obtained by The Herald’s former sister paper, The Sunday Herald, shows Mr Bannon sitting in the middle of a three-man panel, with Sir Angus standing in the room.
Sir Angus has worked with the Scottish Government but has not taken political sides.
“My party is the Grossart party,” he told one interviewer before the independence referendum.
“Our only affiliate is the dinner party.”
Source : HeraldScotland