Russian-backed Sputnik TV channel lands in Edinburgh

From an unprepossessing tower block in Edinburgh, the Kremlin-backed Sputnik news agency is working on its flagship 'Brave New World' current affairs programme.

Picture: Sputnik
Picture: Sputnik

The programme’s title may be a nod to Aldous Huxley’s novel about a dystopian society controlled by a totalitarian government. But yesterday Sputnik broadcasters were keen for the message to get out that their news operation bears no resemblance to that sort of nightmarish vision.

Faced with accusations that Sputnik has set up in Edinburgh in an attempt to push Vladimir Putin’s propaganda at a vulnerable time for the UK, the organisation opened its doors to some members of the Scottish press.

Hosting the press conference was Oxana Brazhnik, the bureau chief. A relative newcomer to journalism, reports suggest she was previously political adviser to Putin’s deputy chief of staff, Vyacheslav Volodin.

A dog on board Russian spacecraft Sputnik II in 1952

“I don’t understand how my previous career refers to what I do at the moment,” Ms Brazhnik said as she fielded questions in the Sputnik office on the sixth floor of Edinburgh’s Exchange Tower.

As it prepares to start broadcasting live from the Scottish capital with a new daily news programme “World in Focus”, Ms Brazhnik and her colleagues were pressed on related matters.

In particular, the suggestion that Sputnik had headed north of the border in an effort to encourage the break up of the UK at a time when the SNP is pressing for a second independence referendum in the aftermath of Brexit.

What did the Sputnik employees think of the idea that their role was to help Putin by distributing news with the aim of destabilising the UK?

A dog on board Russian spacecraft Sputnik II in 1952

“I personally think that’s a bit ridiculous,” said Carolyn Scott, one of the Scottish recruited broadcasters. “From first hand experience, we are never put in a position where we think we are here to destabilise the UK.”

Her broadcasting colleague and fellow Scot Jack Foster added: “If there is an agenda no-one has told us.”

Sputnik’s reports that the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox was in some way connected to the Remain campaign led to concerns about the motivation behind Sputnik’s journalism. A Labour Leave campaigner Brendan Chilton has since expressed his anger at being cited as a source for the theory.

“We never received any complaint from Brendan,” said Ms Brazhnik, who was backed up by Nikolai Gorshkov, a former BBC employer who is now editor and director of Sputnik UK. So why had Sputnik decided to locate in Edinburgh? “Have you checked out the rents in London,” answered Ms Brazhnik.