A FORMER Foreign Office adviser has dismissed claims by a defence expert that Vladimir Putin would welcome an independence referendum, saying it "smacks of real desperation".

David Clark, who previously worked for the late Labour MP Robin Cook, said that Scotland's case to be an independent member state of the EU and Nato has “only been strengthened by Putin’s aggression".

His comments, which were retweeted by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, came after Dr Jonathan Eyal, of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London, argued an independence vote next year would be "exactly" what the Russian president would want, as it would distract the UK Government's attention from foreign policy issues.

The SNP's defence spokesperson Stewart McDonald MP also hit back at Eyal's claim, saying that it "misread the politics of Scottish independence" and that allowing the "spectre of Vladimir Putin to stifle our democracy would be to give him exactly what he wants."

Writing on Twitter, Clark, who served as Cook’s special adviser at the Foreign Office from 1997 to 2001, said: “Based on the opinion of a solitary defence analyst with well known partisan views on independence - smacks of real desperation. 

“I disdain the way some people have used Ukraine to make domestic political points, but this merits a response. 

"The choice for Scotland in the face of Russia’s war against Ukraine is clear to me; what is the best way for Scotland to contribute to the strengthening of multilateral institutions that form the essential underpinnings of Western unity?

“There are arguments both ways on this."

He added: “My own view, as another solitary foreign policy analyst, has only been strengthened by Putin’s aggression.  “In the context of Brexit, Scotland’s best contribution can be made as an independent member state of the EU and NATO.”

FACT CHECK: Claim Scottish independence 'would delight Vladimir Putin'

In the interview published in The Herald, Eyal dismissed the idea that pausing a second independence referendum because of the situation in Ukraine would be “grist to the Kremlin’s mill”.

He said: "The SNP appear to be saying that not holding the referendum would be a gift to Putin. This is so bizarre. It is exactly the opposite - namely holding the referendum would be exactly what Putin would want.

"The reality is, is that Putin would be delighted by the UK being absorbed in a debate about Scottish independence or by the UK being involved in a discussion about dividing the assets of the United Kingdom as a result of a Yes vote to independence.”

He added: "Putin is not terribly interested in Scotland one way or the other. I can assure you he doesn't go to bed at night thinking of Scotland. But anything that creates troubles, anything that paralyzes western countries works to his advantage.

"Anything that weakens or breaks up the United Kingdom would be considered to be to Putin's advantage. The truth is that Putin would be delighted by any breakdown of the United Kingdom. It would make the UK weaker, it would involve internal debate and it would improve his chances in Europe."

Stewart McDonald MP, the SNP's Defence spokesperson, said: "The idea that an independent Scotland – as a member of the EU, NATO, the UN and OSCE – is somehow in Putin’s interests is to totally misread the politics of Scottish independence.

"Putin’s record speaks for itself: the idea of small liberal democracies working in concert to promote and protect their shared values of democracy, sovereignty and human rights is anathema to him."

He added: “Russian interference in democracy is widespread across the Western world, as highlighted by the UK Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee Russia Report – the same report which highlighted the UK government’s repeated failure to take action against this threat.

"In the face of the threat from hostile foreign states, we must do everything we can to strengthen our democratic institutions.

"To do the opposite – to allow the spectre of Vladimir Putin to stifle our democracy – would be to give him exactly what he wants."