THE widow of an ex-Russian spy who was assassinated in London has called on Alex Salmond to give up his television talk show on the Russian channel RT.

Marina Litvinenko, whose husband Alexander was poisoned after meeting two former KGB figures in 2006, said the former First Minister’s decision to front a show on RT “can’t be excused”. She described the channel as a "propaganda-style" station.

However, she also praised Salmond as a “people’s man”, and said she believed he took the job with RT because he believed he “might do good things”. She said RT, however, was the “wrong place” for that to happen.

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Herald, she said: “If he wants to be supported by his own people, he needs to think twice.” She also said she was “suspicious” about Sputnik, another pro-Kremlin broadcaster, having its headquarters in Edinburgh.

HeraldScotland: Marina Litvinenko, the widow of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko

Image: Mrs Litvinkeno

In the 1990s, Mr Litvinenko worked for Russia’s secret service, the FSB, before defecting to the UK.

He alleged that his former employer staged the apartment bombings in three Russian cities in 1999 and accused Putin of sanctioning the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

In 2006, after a meeting with Russian agents Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun in a hotel in Mayfair, he died after ingesting the radioactive poison polonium.

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Following a judicial inquiry, Sir Robert Owen concluded that he was “sure” Lugovoy and Kovtun put the polonium into the teapot from which Litvinenko took his tea. He added that the “FSB operation to kill Mr Litvinenko” was “probably approved” by President Putin.

After Theresa May, the then Home Secretary, announced a judge-led inquiry into the murder, Putin awarded Lugovoi a state honour for “services to the fatherland”.

Marina Litvinenko has campaigned for the killers to be brought to justice and has used her high-profile public platform to criticise what her husband described as Putin’s “mafia state”. She recently described the poisonings in Salisbury of former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter as “like deja vu”.

Speaking to this newspaper, she touched on two Russian Government-funded media outlets, RT and Sputnik, and Salmond’s decision to host a show on RT.

She said: “When you live in a democratic country and when you expect freedom of speech ... you agree everybody has a different opinion. But this is not RT and Sputnik - unfortunately it’s not freedom of speech, it’s propaganda-style media.

“For Scottish people and people living in the UK, freedom of speech is important and sometimes we think watching RT or Sputnik is like to check a different opinion but, again, you don’t understand how easily it became a manipulation.”


Image: Mr Litvinkeno

Marina Litvinenko, who said she will not appear on RT on account of favouring “justice” and “honesty”, said RT covers issues “upside down” and tries to “brainwash people”.

She said: “They want the image of Russia to look better.”

On Salmond, she compared the former SNP First Minister to Gerhard Schroder, the former German Chancellor who worked for Russian energy giant Gazprom after leaving office:

“I call this ‘Schroder-isation’. Schroder is a former head of Germany and he has a very high position in Gazprom. Immediately after he stopped being leader of the country he started to be paid by Russia. It was a shame.

“Unfortunately we have not only Schroder, but we have other people now like Salmond, who is happy to work for Russian money.”

Asked if she was disappointed by Salmond’s decision, she said: “It can’t be excused.”

She added: “You [Salmond] are doing this because you believe you might do good things, in a wrong place. It doesn’t work.”

Asked if she had a message for the former SNP leader, she said: “My message is that I believe he is a people’s man, and everybody can make mistakes, but you need to think twice. It would be better to give it up, but it’s his own decision.”


On Sputnik, a pro-Kremlin news agency which set up its UK headquarters in Edinburgh in 2016, she said: “It looks like Russia has very serious support in Scotland.” She said that, following the independence referendum, it would have been clear to the Russian Government that Scotland was trying to “make the life of the UK not very easy”.

She explained: “If they [the Russian state] have a chance to disturb, they will use it. It is quite suspicious. Why exactly after the referendum on independence was Sputnik based in Scotland?” Salmond has previously been criticised by senior figures in his own party for fronting the RT show. SNP MEP Alyn Smith famously said: “What the f**k is he thinking?”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also said at the time: “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.”

Reacting to Marina Litvinenko’s comments, Scottish Tory chief whip Maurice Golden said: “Alex Salmond may be flippant about how bad his regular appearances on Kremlin TV look, but aside from being embarrassing for his legacy, and for Scottish politics more generally, it’s actually upsetting for many people.

“These remarks from Mr Litvinenko’s widow show exactly why he should have never agreed to appear in the first place.”

Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton added: “Marina Litvinenko knows as well as anybody what the Putin regime are capable of.

“Alex Salmond has made a big mistake in lending his legitimacy to Putin’s propaganda channel, I hope that he hears her comments and thinks long and hard about what he has done.

“I have filed a motion in the Scottish Parliament urging all groups and individuals in Scottish public life to take a stand by refusing future invitations for interview and to end any commercial relationships with Russian state backed media outlets immediately. I would like to see MSPs from across the Parliament make this commitment.”

An RT spokesperson said: “We sympathise with Marina Litvinenko in her loss and hope that she may find solace in this life that has treated her so cruelly.”

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A Sputnik spokesperson said: “Sputnik is cast as an agent of subversion and a Kremlin ‘propaganda machine’, without any evidence whatsoever to support such allegations.

“Sputnik UK reflects the multipolar, multicultural world we live in by presenting different points of view, including those often overlooked by mainstream media. We aim to provide a balanced, truthful, and alternative view of news and current events.

“Sputnik has no intention or aim to influence democratic decisions in Britain. We are proud to be the only international media agency with a UK head office in Edinburgh, providing a much needed media hub outside of London and an opportunity for talented Scottish journalists to cover global news stories, a unique opportunity in the Scottish media environment.”

Salmond did not respond to a request for comment.