SNP MP mounts more pressure on Alex Salmond to quit RT show

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The SNP’s defence spokesman Stewart McDonald has called for greater engagement in Europe’s “forgotten war” in Ukraine – and warned his own party to be wary of the “dangerous instrument” of Russian propaganda.

An SNP delegation visited eastern Ukraine last week and were shown the site of a battle fought around a TV tower, in an example of how Russia’s information war can spiral into deadly conflict.

Alex Salmond has come under fire for his show.

Alex Salmond has come under fire for his show.

READ MORE: Defiant Alex Salmond says “I can say what I like” on Russia Today

An SNP delegation visited eastern Ukraine last week and were shown the site of a battle fought around a TV tower, in an example of how Russia’s information war can spiral into deadly conflict.

In a message to politicians who appear on Russia Today (RT), including Alex Salmond, McDonald said: “When you stand on the hill of the bombed-out TV tower from which Russian separatists were bombing towns where satellite dishes were receiving fake news from Russian media outlets, it brings home to you how dangerous an instrument RT really is.”

READ MORE: MPS ‘should not appear’ on Alex Salmond-linked Russian channel RT

Describing scenes of devastation that recall the sieges of Sarajevo and Grozny, with civilian areas being shelled by tanks, McDonald called on the UK to step up its involvement as a guarantor of Ukraine’s independence under agreements signed following the breakup of the Soviet Union.

He also criticised the planned expansion of the Nord Stream pipeline, which sends Russian gas to Europe under the Baltic Sea, bypassing Ukraine and depriving it of vital revenue and influence.

“Nobody talks about it, and when people do talk about it, the language is always dubious,” said McDonald. “People talk about ‘the crisis in Ukraine’ but it’s a country that’s partially occupied by its neighbour.”

About 2.5 million people who fled the conflict in 2014 remain unable to return home, including 1.4 million internally displaced people. The latest ceasefire collapsed on 30 March, and fighting continues to kill soldiers and civilians.

The delegation, which included SNP MPs Douglas Chapman and Chris Law, defied UK security advice to visit the town of Avdiivka, 2.5 miles from the “contact line” to the north of the occupied city of Donetsk. Once an industrial centre, the population of the town has fallen from 35,000 to 16,000. The MPs found elderly residents living in apartment blocks riddled with shell blasts. McDonald said: “The people who remain walk around as if life is normal, but they walk past buildings where you can see the shape of the shell. It stuns you into silence.”

Avdiivka’s coke plant, which employed thousands and was the largest producer of the industrial fuel in Ukraine, made the town a strategic target and has been repeatedly shelled.

“The manager of the coke plant has to sleep in his office, because he can’t go home,” said McDonald. “His house is in illegally occupied Donetsk.”

A six-day battle in early 2017 was one of the fiercest of the war as the Ukrainian military sought to retake Avdiivka from Russian-backed forces. Fighting centred on a hill overlooking nearby towns, where a TV tower was one of the first targets hit by separatist forces to knock out the signal from Ukrainian media.

“What was being transmitted via satellite by Russian media was that the shelling coming into those towns was from the Ukrainian armed forces. It wasn’t, it was Russian separatists,” McDonald said.