NICOLA Sturgeon has issued an unprecedented slap-down to her predecessor Alex Salmond, as the controversy over his role with a Kremlin propaganda TV station intensifies.

The First Minister, who until now has kept her silence over Mr Salmond’s activities since he was ousted as an MP in June, said he was wrong to host a weekly talk show on RT, formerly Russia Today.

The SNP leader’s rebuke marks the first public rift between the party’s two most powerful figures and there were warnings last night it could lead to increased tensions internally.

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Ms Sturgeon said she was “sure Alex’s show will make interesting viewing”, but added: “However, his choice of channel would not have been my choice.

“Of course, Alex is not currently an elected politician and is free to do as he wishes – but had I been asked, I would have advised against RT and suggested he seek a different channel to air what I am sure will be an entertaining show.

“Neither myself nor the SNP will shy away from criticising Russian policy when we believe it is merited.”

HeraldScotland:

Ms Sturgeon was Mr Salmond’s deputy for a decade, both in the SNP and in government, before replacing him in 2014 after the No result in the independence referendum.

But a senior SNP source said there was a growing “coldness” between Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond, while another said the former leader and his supporters would try to get their own back. One senior SNP source told The Herald: “She [had] better be careful. He will bite back. That’s the nature of the man. He will fight back through proxies.”

Another said: “The relationship is certainly cold. I think it’s a two-way thing. The relationship has broken down.

“It’s not irreparable, but there’s not the closeness there used to be.”

Ms Sturgeon previously defended Mr Salmond from allegations of sexism after he cracked a controversial joke during his Edinburgh Fringe run in August.

She simply said the gag – which made reference to having sex with her and other female leaders – belonged “more in the Benny Hill era than it does in the modern era”.

She denied her predecessor was sexist, but said: “Occasionally Alex is not always as funny as he thinks he is.”

HeraldScotland:

Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton has tabled a motion to the Scottish Parliament asking Mr Salmond to “re-examine” his decision, insisting RT is “regarded by intelligence services around the world as an agent of the Russian state”, and complicit in the cover-up of serious human rights breaches.

He said he hoped SNP colleagues would “feel able to sign”, presenting them with an uncomfortable choice between supporting Ms Sturgeon or siding with the former first minister.

RT was recently forced to register as an arm of the Russian government in the US, where the security services say it is simply a mouthpiece for president Vladimir Putin.

HeraldScotland:

Political figures have lined up to criticise Mr Salmond’s decision since it was announced – including some from within his own party.

Scottish Labour leadership candidate Anas Sarwar said Mr Salmond’s decision to become “Putin’s puppet in the UK” was “deeply troubling”.

And Scottish Tory deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said it “beggars belief that a man who led Scotland for seven years should be reduced to a puppet of Russia’s deeply damaging propaganda unit”.

SNP MEP Alyn Smith telling The Herald: “What the f*** is he thinking?”

HeraldScotland:

But SNP stalwart Jim Sillars insisted party leaders were being “a bit po-faced” in their reaction, while Mr Salmond hit back at critics during an interview on RT yesterday.

He said: “Given that number of their own colleagues from their own parties who have appeared on this channel, why on earth are they questioning it?

“You must take things as you find them. I have found this channel allows me to express my views without fear or favour.

“And secondly, there’s an underlying question about freedom of speech. Are all these other media outlets so worried that they won’t allow things to be shown on RT?

“Do they think the viewers are going to desert in their millions? I mean, what problem do they have with it?

“If they can’t find a problem with content, why should they have a problem with being on the channel?”

HeraldScotland:

Alongside Norwegian venture capitalist Christen Ager-Hanssen, Mr Salmond is currently part of a takeover bid at Johnson Press, owner of The Scotsman newspaper.

Last night, Mr Ager-Hanssen insisted the RT controversy would have no impact on the pair’s ambitions for the publishing company.

He told The Herald: “I think Alex Salmond will probably do a great show on Russia Today and I don’t think it will be political propaganda for Putin. I think it’s going to be brilliant. His running a talk show will not affect his ability to run Johnson Press. It has nothing to do with Johnson Press.”