Defence secretary Michael Fallon has urged the public to resist pro-Russian propaganda following concerns about a branch of a Kremlin-backed news agency opening in Scotland.
The British bureau of Sputnik opened in Edinburgh earlier this year, leading to suggestions that Russia is attempting to use the state-controlled news outlet to destabilise the UK.
Sputnik was created by Vladimir Putin and is fronted by Dmitry Kiselyov, who has been branded Putin’s propagandist-in-chief.
The agency recently claimed that Brexit opinion polls were rigged in favour of Remain. It has been accused of peddling suggestions that MP Jo Cox may have been murdered as part of a plot by EU Remain supporters to sway the referendum.
Speaking to Scotland on Sunday, Fallon said: “I think Scottish folk, like English folk, are too sensible to be taken in. But we do have to be wary of Russian propaganda.
“They have bombarded the Baltic states. They claim they have nothing to do with the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner in the Ukraine. There has been a lot of quite blatant propaganda, which we do need to resist. A free press and sound common sense are usually the best antidotes.”
Fallon added: “It is a free country. We can’t stop the Russians, but we are looking to increase BBC transmissions to the Baltic to counter some of the blatant untruths.”
When asked if he felt Sputnik’s UK presence could undermine the UK, Fallon said the No result of the Scottish independence referendum suggested it would not. “The Scottish referendum was lost and they failed to get involved in that. We need to be wary of it, but I think most people know not to take Russian propaganda at face value,” he said.
Last night the Sputnik UK press office said: “Sputnik UK is amazed by how the BBC budget can be so easily augmented by a simple decision of the UK secretary of state for defence. Other than that, we do not see any room for corporate comment as Mr Fallon referred to absolutely no propaganda incidents in either Sputnik articles or radio programmes.”