Alex Salmond criticised for failing to condemn Russia over Salisbury poisonings
Alex Salmond has been criticised after he refused to say whether he believes Russia was responsible for the Salisbury poisonings.
The former first minister is the host of The Alex Salmond Show on RT, a Russian state-controlled TV network.
The UK Government and a host of other countries have blamed Russia for the 2018 nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military officer and double agent for the British intelligence agencies, and his daughter, Yulia Skripal.
While both survived the attempt, a British woman, Dawn Sturgess, came into contact with the poison two weeks later and died. Police believe she picked up a contaminated perfume bottle containing the nerve agent which had been discarded by the Russian assassins after the poisoning of the Skripals.
During an interview on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland, Salmond declined to say if he thought the Russians were responsible.
"I think the evidence is as it came forward," he said.
Salmond, who now leads the Alba Party, added: "What has this got to do with this election?"
When it was put to him that he works for RT, Salmond said: "I produce, along with Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, a programme for Slainte Media which is then broadcast on the RT platform, as they're perfectly entitled to do.
"I can tell you from personal experience - I don't know what your experience at the BBC is - not a single word of editorial instruction or even suggestion has been made to me from anyone at RT and the programme stands on its own merits."
Asked again if Russia was to blame for the Salisbury attack, Salmond replied: "The evidence was presented at the time.
"I'm struggling to understand what this has got to do with a Scottish election campaign.
"It's perfectly legitimate for you to ask me about the programme I produce along with others and its broadcast on RT."
Pressed for a fourth time, the ex-SNP leader added: "Evidence came forward as contested, I said it should go to the international tribunals and courts.
"I said that at the time and I think the evidence came forward and people can see it for what it is.”
Earlier in the radio interview, Salmond suggested the evidence of Russian interference in recent US elections was "very slight".
He was asked about a report by the Common’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), which said “there has been credible open source commentary suggesting that Russia undertook influence campaigns in relation to the Scottish independence referendum in 2014”.
The ISC said there were suspicions those operations were a trial run by Russia’s troll factories before they tried to influence voters during the 2016 EU referendum.
Asked whether Russia had interfered with either the Scottish referendum or 2016 US election, Salmond replied: “Well certainly not the 2014 referendum; the only publicity I saw in the 2014 referendum was the suggestion [that] David Cameron had asked Vladimir Putin to intervene on the no side in the referendum campaign and President Putin had refused to do so, which of course was the proper thing to do.”
Pressed on the ISC report’s conclusions, he said: “Anybody who analysed the evidence that was suggested would think it laughable in my opinion.”
Asked about allegations of Russian interference in the US election, he added: “Well I thought the evidence for that was very slight and basically the examination was very slight.
“But what I would say is I think that many states decide in one way or another to interfere in other states’ elections. I don’t think they should do so, and I don’t care if it’s Vladimir Putin or President Obama, whoever it is. I think they should let the people in Scotland get on with their election.”
But Phillips Payson O’Brien, a professor of Strategic Studies at the University of St. Andrews, said Salmond was trying to “minimise the criticism of his paymaster”.
He told Holyrood that the Muller report and work by US intelligence showed there was “strong evidence” that the Russians had interfered in the US election.
“He's just choosing not to believe them because they don't fit his narrative,” the academic said.
And Professor O’Brien said he thought the Russian state could be “moderately” interfering in the Scottish election.
“I don't think this is like trying to interfere in the US in 2016 or anything like that, but I think what we're seeing is the influence of Russian money without a targeted focus on this election.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat MP, Alistair Carmichael, said Salmond was “spinning Russian propaganda lines”.
Stewart McDonald, the SNP defence spokesperson, criticised his former colleague: “Even Russians believe that Russia was behind the Salisbury poisoning that resulted in the murder of Dawn Sturgess.
“That Alex Salmond can’t see or say that plainly shows how remarkably low he has sunk."