EDINBURGH University has been urged to reconsider an honorary degree awarded to the head of a Kremlin “propaganda” unit in the wake of the Skripal double poisoning spy scandal.

Former KGB figure Vyacheslav Nikonov, who boasted that Russia elected Donald Trump as president, is chair of international “culture” body Russkiy Mir and received the honour five years ago.

Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole Hamilton said: “Questions need to be asked here and Edinburgh University has to think long and hard about this honorary degree.”

The university said it has "no plans" to withdraw the degree, but will "continue to monitor events closely".

The UK Government is considering a range of diplomatic and financial sanctions against Russia after the attempted murder of double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

Prime Minister Theresa May said it was “highly likely” the Russian state was responsible for the nerve agent attack in Salisbury and promised a tough response.

Options being discussed include closing RT, a Russian news channel that echoes the positions of President Vladimir Putin, as well as clamping down on soft power cultural initiatives that are funded by the Government.

One such venture, the Russkiy Mir Foundation (RMF), was created by decree in 2007 by Putin as a way of promoting his country’s language. However, critics believe the it is a tool for advancing Putin’s world view and challenging Western cultural assumptions and traditions.

The RMF helped fund specific projects at Durham and Edinburgh universities, the latter of which has received £241,949 to fund the Princess Dashkova Russian Centre.

A newspaper article in 2016 claimed that the foundation’s involvement with British universities constituted a “secret propaganda assault on Britain from within its own borders.”

Several conditions were attached to the Edinburgh University funding, including a requirement that photographs or video footage of furniture and equipment be sent to the RMF. Inspectors were also required “unobstructed” access to the premises.

In 2010 Nikonov, at that point the RSF executive director, opened the Centre and delivered a lecture entitled “How Crisis has Changed the World”.

Two years later, Nikonov was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University and he later became chairman of the board of directors of the RMF.

The University awarded him the degree of Doctor honoris causa, which can recognise “outstanding work, public service or contribution to society more generally”.


Picture: Cole-Hamilton said the University should "think long and hard" about the degree

The Herald: Paul Sweeney

Picture: Sweeney said the University should make a statement on Nikonov

As the grandson of of Vyacheslav Molotov, Stalin's Foreign Minister during the Second World War, Nikonov is a pro-Kremlin politician who is a member of Putin’s United Russia party. He used to be assistant to the head of the KGB.

Nikonov has also served on Putin’s staff and is listed as the Chairman of the Committee on Education and Science in the Duma.

In September last year, amid claims that members of President Trump’s campaign team colluded with Russia, Nikonov said on live television: "(To achieve world dominance) the US overextended themselves. Because the most recent tendencies, economical, military, even tendencies in the intelligence (services) which slept through while Russia elected a new US president."

He added: "It's just ridiculous, what kind of intelligence in the USA one can even talk about?"

Scottish Greens MSP Andy Wightman said: "To the extent that Russia is implicated in the poisonings, and appears to be engaged in nefarious activities, I would question any academic institution giving awards to members of the Russian government or politicians."

Labour MP Paul Sweeney said: "In light of the rise of an increasingly authoritarian government in Russia, that has actively suppressed political activities opposed to the government, has invaded and occupied part of another European state contrary to international law, and has prosecuted assassinations of British citizens in the UK, it is clear that a full review of Russian influence on UK institutions is needed and the University of Edinburgh should make a statement on the full nature of its relationship with the RMF and Nikonov."

A University of Edinburgh spokesperson said: “As with all honorary degrees, this award was made based on the merits of the case at the time. We have no plans at present to withdraw the degree, but will continue to monitor events closely.”

Russkiy Mir did not respond to a request for comment.