NICOLA Sturgeon is facing online attacks from Kremlin trolls masquerading as "cybernats", senior SNP figures have warned. The First Minister has been aggressively targeted on social media following her condemnation of Russia over the nerve agent attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

Sturgeon was attacked after she said that Russia "cannot unlawfully kill/attempt to kill on our streets with impunity". She was accused of adopting the same line as the Tory government.

Trolls likened Sturgeon comments on Russia to Blair and his support for the Iraq war, and accused her of being a mouthpiece for England rather than Scotland.

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However, leading SNP politicians say some of the attacks are more sinister than mere jibes from disgruntled online independence supporters, sometimes referred to as "cybernats". Cybernats have been compared to online Unionist extremists – some of whom have threatened the First Minister – as well as hardline Brexiteers and Trump supporters.

Last night, SNP top brass warned that Sturgeon may now be a target of Vladimir Putin, as part of a black propaganda war.

Stephen Gethins, the SNP's international affairs spokesman at Westminster, said attacking high-profile critics like Sturgeon was a tactic the Moscow regime routinely used when it was challenged. Gethins spoke out after SNP MEP Alyn Smith said it was likely the Kremlin was targeting the party's politicians after Sturgeon tweeted that "Russia’s actions cannot be tolerated".

Gethins said he would not be surprised if Russia was using trolls to target the First Minister "because she's taken a line that disagrees with the Kremlin".

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The North East Fife MP is one of his party's foremost experts on the former Soviet Union, having worked for the NGO – Saferworld – on promoting "peace-building" and "arms control" in the region. He was in Ukraine during the nation's "Orange Revolution".

Gethins, who sits on Westminster's foreign affairs select committee, said: "Having worked in the former Soviet Union, I'm under no pretence as to what Russia is capable of. It's not something that would surprise me as that is the way they have targeted human rights activists and journalists. In terms of human rights activists, journalists and politicians, Russia is one of the most dangerous places to be."

SNP MEP Smith claimed that some of the abuse against Sturgeon could be orchestrated by Kremlin officials posing as "cybernats". The MEP said Moscow often sought to maliciously stir up hatred in nations its perceives as enemies.

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Smith said he had been targeted himself since Sturgeon's criticism of Russia on Wednesday.

He said: "As a vocal anti-Brexit politician I am used to receiving online abuse." Smith believes that the online attacks in the wake of Sturgeon criticising Russia are "beyond the normal discourse", adding: “I know what Scottish abuse sounds like and some of the abuse I have received lately has been in poor English, in sentences constructed poorly with insults that are used in a way that no Scot would use.

“I’ve voiced concerns before about the conduct of discourse in Scotland, but I’m increasingly alarmed that the worst elements of Scottish discourse are not Scottish at all, but orchestrated from elsewhere. I do not want to see the Yes movement played by Putin. Some of the abuse that Nicola has had doesn’t look right. In the last couple of days a lot of the stuff doesn’t ring true.”

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Gethins, who has worked closely with human rights activists in Russia, said that Smith's claims "stand up".

Former SNP cabinet minister Alex Neil said attacks on Sturgeon by Kremlin trolls were tactics that Putin was likely to use. The SNP MSP said: "It's very clear that the Russian state is engaging in black propaganda and fake news that seeks to spread disillusionment and chaos.

"It's all part of a new Russian strategy and information war. There is an attempt by Putin to create a new Cold War. But instead of using tanks and military equipment, it's attacks are via information that are aimed at causing chaos."

Neil said that Kremlin trolls attacking Sturgeon "would not surprise me because the current strategy of the Russian state is to undermine countries that they perceive to be their enemies".

SNP MSP James Dornan, who is seeking election as party deputy leader, added: "I haven't seen it myself, but it wouldn't be a great surprise given what we have found out recently about Russia's use of social media."


STURGEON has also been accused of betrayal by online supporters of independence after her comments on the spy crisis. So-called “cybernats” maintained the First Minister was wrong to speak about the attacks on the streets of an English city.

A Tweet from someone calling themselves William Ormond posting from @Scot1320 said: "Your [sic] seeing this as a UK issue, when its not. This is not Scotland's fight."

He then accused Sturgeon of harming the campaign for independence.

"We are never going to be independent if you don't see Scotland as a country in her own right. The language you are using is not right," he added.

Meanwhile, a post from @the45Storm just minutes after Sturgeon spoke out against the Kremlin said: "You are supposed to be representing people of Scotland, not falling for this propaganda."

Others accused the First Minister of "selling her soul" and basing her claim on what "the Brit establishment telt her". A number of posts claimed the BBC was worse than Russian propaganda TV station RT.

In a response to Sturgeon, a Tweet from Yogi The Tim @JesuisTamBoyd, said: "Why don't you do the job we elected you to and get us out of this union instead of meddling in English problems, he was their spy not yours ffs."

There was a similar attack from Tommy Girder Brawley @TommyBrawley, who said: "Come on wee Nicola pop your head out of That Tory Pocket! How many of these Tory Rats took Russian Donors Money ? disgraceful condemning with no proof ! WTF are you lot really up to ?"

Other replies were less vitriolic, but claimed Sturgeon was warmongering.

Thomas brotherston @TBrotherston said: "What nonsense is this. Nicola I thought you had received training as a lawyer. Where is the 'innocen t until proven guilty' what evidence do you have for joining in this war psychosis? Why do you consider Brexit =referendum but not nuclear war. Scotland is on the frontline."