London - British eurosceptic leader Nigel Farage came under fire on Thursday for saying that the EU was to blame for provoking Russian President Vladimir Putin to take action in Ukraine.
Farage, the head of the UK Independence Party, said in a televised debate with Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg on Wednesday that the EU had “blood on its hands.”
Britain had encouraged the 28-member bloc to pursue an “imperialist, expansionist” agenda in Ukraine, which had led to the uprising in Kiev and Russia's absorption of Crimea earlier this month, said Farage.
“We should hang our heads in shame,” Farage said in the debate, the first of two with Clegg focusing on Britain's relationship with Europe.
“We have given a false series of hopes to a group of people in the western Ukraine and so geed up were they that they actually toppled their own elected leader.
“That provoked Mr Putin and I think the European Union, frankly, does have blood on its hands in the Ukraine.”
Protests erupted in Ukraine last November after now-toppled president Viktor Yanukovych suspended talks on a historic trade and political pact with the EU in favour of closer ties with Russia.
Clegg accused Farage of siding with Putin, whose country faces a barrage of sanctions from the United States and EU over the Crimea crisis.
“It shows quite how extreme people can be like Nigel Farage when their loathing of the European Union becomes so all-consuming that they even end up siding with Vladimir Putin in order to make their point,” he said in a radio interview on Thursday.
Clegg said it was “perverse” and “insulting” to suggest it that the uprising in Ukraine was the EU's fault.
“For Nigel Farage to side with Vladimir Putin, he will have to explain why he did so. I was astounded. It was in many ways the most striking, if not shocking, new revelation that came to light” in the debate, he added.
Neither Prime Minister David Cameron - who has promised a referendum on EU membership in 2017 if he is elected next year - nor opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband took part in the televised debate.
A YouGov poll of 1 003 people published immediately after the debate showed that 57 percent thought Farage had performed better, compared to 36 percent for Clegg.
Farage's party is expected to make large gains in elections for the European Parliament on May 22, while Clegg's is expected to fare badly.