NICOLA Sturgeon has condemned Alex Salmond's decision to sign a TV deal with a Kremlin propaganda channel, in an unprecedented public rift with her predecessor.

The First Minister said she had not been asked about the arrangement, and that if had she had been, she would have advised against it. 

RT [Russian Today] "would not have been my choice," she said.

The SNP also distanced itself from Mr Salmond's decision to host a weekly show on the controversial broadcaster, which is being forced to register in the United States as an arm of the Russian government.

Afte being urged by opposition parties to speak out on Mr Salmond's action, Ms Sturgeon issued a personal statement on the matter.

She said: "I am sure Alex’s show will make interesting viewing – 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.”

Mr Salmond will host an eponymous weekly chat show on RT – a network widely seen as a mouthpiece for Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

The ex-politician said his new programme would have a “sharp focus on politics”, with a “relaxed informal style” which allows guests “to express their point of view”.

But critics have condemned the move as “deeply troubling” at a time of widespread concern over Russian influence in the West.

READ MORESalmond under fire for signing TV deal with Russia Today

An SNP spokesman said: "This is entirely a matter for Alex Salmond , who is not currently an elected politician and as such is free to ?take on broadcasting and other opportunities of his own choosing, just as those from other parties have done.

"The SNP has no connection to Alex’s company or his media interests.

"The SNP has regularly expressed concern over actions by the Russian government, including reports of persecution on the grounds of race and sexuality, attacks on journalists and concerns about the integrity of the democratic process, and we will continue to pursue these concerns."

Opposition politicians urged Nicola Sturgeon to condemn Mr Salmond’s “shameful decision” to launch the show.

Scottish Labour leadership candidate Anas Sarwar said: “It demonstrates an astonishing lack of judgement for a former First Minister to host a show on Kremlin-backed TV. Alex Salmond’s decision to become Putin’s puppet in the UK is deeply troubling.

READ MORESalmond under fire for signing TV deal with Russia Today

“Nicola Sturgeon can’t laugh this one off – she must demonstrate leadership and condemn this shameful decision.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton challenged Mr Salmond to interview opponents of the Putin regime such as punk band Pussy Riot or Marina Litvinenko, justice campaigner and widow of murdered spy and dissident Alexander Litvinenko.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “Frankly, it is quite impressive if Mr Salmond has managed to secure free rein for his chat show on the Russian state broadcaster.

“If this is the case, he should start with a bang and use this as an opportunity to give a platform to some of the courageous opponents of the Putin regime like Pussy Riot, Marina Litvinenko or one of the many prominent gay rights activists standing up in the face of Russian thuggery.

“It’s essential that here in the UK we work with those who share our values to achieve a world in which every person can live, work and flourish without discrimination or repression.”

Scottish Conservative deputy leader jackson Carlaw said: Now deputy leader Jackson Carlaw has called on Nicola Sturgeon to condemn the move, and finally distance herself from the man whose job she took over in 2014.

Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said: “It’s clear that Alex Salmond’s moral compass now points towards Vladimir Putin’s corrupt regime in the Kremlin.

“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.

“Along with most people, ordinary SNP activists will be appalled by Mr Salmond’s actions.

“Hopefully Nicola Sturgeon will find the courage finally to distance herself from the embarrassing and shameful example being set by her predecessor.

“Old loyalties should not deter the current First Minister from speaking out immediately.”

Scottish Tory MP Colin Clark, who unseated Mr Salmond at the general election earlier this year, said the controversial move into Russian broadcasting would “suit” the former First Minister’s politics.

He said: “I am only too happy to have helped Alex make the move into journalism.

“Many people would say that it is long overdue, and will suit his politics more than Westminster or Holyrood.

“Whether it’s in Strichen or Moscow, I’m sure he will continue to attack the UK’s free press, and criticise the media as a propaganda tool.”

He joked: “But I’m sure he won’t actually defect - like his supporters did from the SNP to the Conservatives this year.”

RT has receiving hundreds of millions of pounds in funding from the budget of the Russian Federation but executives say its journalists are independent.

In October, Twitter banned RT's adverts after US intelligence agencies stated the channel was part of efforts to undermine the 2016 presidential election.

Mr Salmond’s show will be produced by Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, a friend and former SNP MP who also lost her seat in June’s snap election.

Mr Clark added: “He and Tasmina make a great team.

"There seems to be a number of positions open in Russian TV and radio, and I look forward to seeing more SNP politicians take the opportunity.”