Crawley; MP In Tweet Row

Downing Street has firmly disowned a Tory backbencher who branded Russian president Vladimir Putin a "t****r'' amid diplomatic skirmishing between the countries.

Henry Smith used blunt language on Twitter to express his opinion of Mr Putin, who is hosting the world's leaders including David Cameron at the G20 summit in St Petersburg.

Tensions have been running high at the gathering, with the Prime Minister dismissing the prospect of consensus on Syria and complaining that Russia remains "miles away'' from the truth of Bashar Assad's chemical weapons use.

A Kremlin official is also reported to have told journalists that Britain is "just a small island, no-one pays any attention to them'' -  although the president's chief spokesman has denied making the jibe.

Posting on the social networking site Twitter, Mr Smith wrote: "Putin really is a t****r.''

Expanding on his negative view, the Crawley MP said it went wider than the current stand-off over Assad.

"There is his abuse of human rights against the gay community in his own country, there is the abuse of human rights in Syria where the way he is helping and prolonging that civil war there is appalling,'' he told the Press Association.

"On Twitter in a slight fit of pique I might refer to him as a t****r. But in other forums, such as the House of Commons, I would accuse him of being an absurd character.''

He added: "I may not use that colloquial language in other forums, but frankly it is still how I feel.''

The Prime Minister's spokesman said it was "no secret'' that there was disagreement on the Syria issue, but insisted the Government took a "robust but constructive approach'' to Russia.

Asked if the Prime Minister disapproved of Mr Smith's comment, the spokesman said: "I think that we need a robust but constructive approach. Anything else, well, I just think that's clearly not how the Government goes about its relations with Russia.''

The spokesman said the need for constructive engagement with Russia "should be reflected in the language people use''.

The Prime Minister's spokesman said the Government took a "robust but constructive approach'' to engagement with Russia.

Asked if the Premier disapproved of Mr Smith's comment, the spokesman said: "I think that we need a robust but constructive approach. Anything else, well, I just think that's clearly not how the Government goes about its relations with Russia.''

The spokesman said the need for constructive engagement with Russia "should be reflected in the language people use''.

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