Should the British government be more suspicious of Russia? Theresa May obviously thinks so, telling Vladimir Putin in a speech this week that ‘we know what you are doing and you will not succeed’. Jeremy Corbyn is less keen, with his spokesman telling journalists that ‘I think we need to see more evidence of what’s being talked about… [but] Jeremy has made clear on a number of occasions that we need to see an attempt through dialogue to ratchet down tensions with Russia.’
Meanwhile, Alex Salmond’s decision to host a chat show on Kremlin-backed channel Russia Today last week ratcheted up tensions with his own party, with Nicola Sturgeon distancing herself from Salmond and saying she wouldn’t have advised him to do such a thing. The matter pops up in a column in the Courier today by Salmond’s former speechwriter-turned-critic Alex Bell, who isn’t full of compliments for his old boss, describing him as ‘Mr Putin’s patsy’ who has an ‘insecure ego’ and a ‘useful idiot’. But aside from the volley of insults, Bell also has a revealing line about Russia’s interest in Scotland. He describes a meeting with Russian officials in the run-up to the 2014 independence referendum which led to a suggestion that Salmond should meet Putin, and writes:
‘What stood in 2012 still stands – Russia is not a functioning democracy, does not respect human rights, is in the habit of murdering government critics and would clearly like to destabilise the west.
‘Washington and London seem certain that Moscow is active, via social networks, in spreading propaganda which influences Western democracy – a claim which is hard for the citizen to prove, but, equally, is unlikely to be made up.’
Bell is annoyed that Salmond has chosen this ‘particularly stupid time to sign up to a show on a Russian government-supported broadcasting channel’. His column suggests that the Russian interest in Scottish independence is about weakening the west – much as Russia might want Britain to leave the European Union for reasons quite different to its belief in a country’s sovereignty. Salmond has insisted that because it is his own production company that makes his show, he will be free to criticise the Russian regime and also to address topics such as LGBT rights in a way that contradicts the Kremlin’s stance. But will he question what lies behind Vladimir Putin’s interest in certain political movements? No earnest supporter of Scottish independence would want it to be associated with a country that wants to destabilise the west through political turmoil, so presumably this will be an important issue, like LGBT rights, that the former first minister of Scotland will want to pursue.