A Russian state-funded news agency has set up a studio in Edinburgh and is preparing to start live broadcasting.

Oxana Brazhnik, 33, and Johanna Ross, 30, head up the newly opened British bureau of Sputnik news agency which will transmit live radio programmes from its base in Scotland, with the goal of "telling the untold" to Scottish and UK audiences.

Critics say the station will act as a mouthpiece for the Kremlin, with an SNP MP voicing fears it could be "a tool for disinformation".

Nikolai Gorshkov, the UK editorial director of Sputnik News, defended Vladimir Putin’s media service amid scepticism of its motives as it opened its doors to the British press for the first time.

Mr Gorshov and the team, which it is hoped will reach 25 staff members in Scotland, led by Ms Brazhnik, a former high-level political adviser from Moscow with no previous career in journalism, claimed there had been no direct influence from the Kremlin.

Johanna Ross (below), 30, is an executive producer, from Dundee, who is among the staff in the staging post for Russia that was criticised for earlier likening Scots independence to the conflict over Crimea in the Ukraine.

The Herald:

Scots journalists and radio presenters Carolyn Scott and Jack Foster are also among those accused of being part of a black propaganda operation, claimed to have been set up in Edinburgh because of cost savings compared to London.

Ms Scott, presenter on World in Focus, said: “I personally find that (black propaganda claim) just a bit ridiculous.

“From first-hand experience we are never put in a position where we think that we are going to destabilise the UK.”

Mr Foster said: “If there is an agenda then certainly no-one’s told us.”

Ms Brazhnik also rejected claims Sputnik’s reporting could have influenced the 100,000 petition for a new independence referendum after Russian officials criticised the voting and counting processes.

She said: “At that time we didn’t even have a team on the ground to report on the Scottish referendum.” Sputnik is the brainchild of the Russian government’s propaganda chief, Dmitri Kiselyov, and says its aim is to challenge what it regards as the news orthodoxies of the “unipolar” American-led world media.

The Herald:

But Russia watchers are deeply sceptical about the new organisation, the latest incarnation of Soviet-era news agency RIA Novosti and Cold War broadcaster Radio Moscow.

Sputnik, they believe, is a crude tool used as an apologist for Kremlin policies on gay rights and Ukraine while cynically encouraging alternative views of Western powers.

The station was criticised after its London web-based arm packaged wire news copy about MP Jo Cox and claims her killing may have been connected to the Remain Brexit campaign.

But Ms Brazhnik said: “This is not the only view that is presented on the website.”

Mr Gorshkov said: “There are different genres.

“Of course wires are short bursts of information, they are quotes from this and that and everywhere and we have in-depth stories as well.”

But despite claiming to open its doors to the press and welcome them in, The Herald photographer was refused entry.

Mr Foster also defended the editorial independence of the office.

He said: “I can only speak for what we do in this office and certainly I don’t feel that there is ever any pressure on me to report in a specific way or present things in a certain light.”