Alex Salmond has been accused of being an “apologist for the Putin regime” after three times refusing to say whether he believed Russia was responsible for the Salisbury nerve agent attack.
The former first minister, who hosts a TV show on the Kremlin-funded channel RT (Russia Today), said people could judge the evidence on whether Vladimir Putin’s regime was behind the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia.
But he repeatedly refused to say whether he accepted the verdict of Britain’s intelligence services that a GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate) assassination squad orchestrated the attempted murder of Mr Skripal in Salisbury in March 2018.
Colonel Skripal, a former GRU colonel turned MI6 spy, and his daughter survived the nerve agent attack but Dawn Sturgess was killed after she inadvertently picked up discarded Novichok concealed in a perfume bottle.
Mr Salmond also dismissed as “very slight” evidence that the Putin regime interfered in the 2016 presidential election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, despite US intelligence concluding that it had.
They found in January 2017 that Russia engaged in cyber-espionage and distributed messages through propaganda outlets to undermine public faith in the democratic process, hurt Clinton and aid Trump.
The Alba Party leader, who is trying to help Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP create a ‘super-majority for independence in next month’s Holyrood election, emphasised that his TV show was produced independently of RT and the Kremlin exerts no editorial pressure on him.
However, during an edition of the Alex Salmond Show broadcast at the height of the Salisbury crisis, the RT ticker tape that ran at the bottom of the screen said the UK and US had accused Russia of breaching the OPCW Convention on chemical weapons “despite no thorough probe.”
Alistair Carmichael, the Scottish Liberal Democrat Holyrood campaign director, said: “Alex Salmond was once hailed as the most effective politician in Scotland but has now been reduced to an apologist for the Putin regime.
“He has been paid by the Russian state broadcaster for years and the result is his change from respected leader to spinning Russian propaganda lines.”
He added: “This is an incredibly important moment for voters. A summer of arguments between this man and other nationalist factions over the future of our country would be chaotic and poisonous.”
Annie Wells, a Scottish Tory candidate, said: “This car-crash interview only served to highlight again that Alex Salmond is not fit to hold public office.”
Mr Salmond was speaking the day after he launched the Alba Party’s national campaign with a demand that Ms Sturgeon must open immediate independence negotiations with the UK next month if the Holyrood election results in a nationalist “super-majority”.
The former First Minister said nationalists MSPs, including those from his Alba Party, would issue a “clear and unmistakable instruction” to Ms Sturgeon’s government to open immediate talks with Whitehall on separation.
Mr Salmond also insisted that Ms Sturgeon would have to put their personal feud to one side and work with him to deliver separation if polls are correct that the Alba Party is on course to win seats.
In a dig at his former protegee, he told BBC Radio Scotland that independence “hasn’t been pursued as urgently as it should have been over the last five years but it should be pursued now and I think there’s a growing realisation in Scotland that that should be done.”
But he was then pressed about his RT show, which started in 2017 but is currently suspended due to the election. He has so far failed to say whether it will continue if he is elected on May 6.
Asked if Russia had interfered in US elections, he said: “I thought the evidence for that was very slight, and basically the examination was very slight.”
Challenged if he believed the Russians were behind the poisonings of the Skripals in Salisbury, he said: “I think the evidence is as it came forward.”
Mr Salmond questioned what it had to do with the Scottish election and said “not a single word” of editorial pressure had been made by RT to him or his co-host, Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, another former SNP MP and Alba Party candidate.
Asked again if Russia was behind the poisoning of the Skripals, he said: “The evidence was presented at the time, Gary. I am struggling to understand what this has got to do with a Scottish election campaign.”
Pressed a third time, he replied: “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.”