Alex Salmond has been widely criticised for refusing to say whether or not he believes Russia was behind the Novichok attack in Salisbury in 2018.

The former SNP leader, now leading rival pro-independence party Alba, repeatedly avoided questions about Russian involvement in a BBC interview today (April 7).

The interview led to Salisbury trending on social media, as people struggled to understand his reluctant stance.

READ MORE: Why inquest into Russian involvement will be complex

Mr Salmond asked the interviewer why the questions were relevant to the upcoming Scottish elections.

Here's the background to the politician's history with Russia:

What are Alex Salmond’s links to Russia?

Alex Salmond began presenting a programme on RT (formerly known as Russia Today), the Russian state owned broadcaster, in 2017.

He was criticised by a range of politicians for agreeing to work with the company.

His successor as SNP leader and first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, has previously said she would have advised against teaming up with the channel, widely considered a vehicle for ‘Kremlin propaganda’.

The Russia Today website describes The Alex Salmond show as a platform on which Mr Salmond “vows to battle the mainstream media narrative” and take the news “out of the Westminster nexus”.

How did Alex Salmond react to the Salisbury poisonings at the time?

When the Salisbury poisonings happened in 2018, Mr Salmond faced further widespread criticism.

He insisted he had editorial control and was not managed by the Russian state or agents of President Vladimir Putin.

The suspects in the Novichok attacks in Salisbury would later appear on RT in a much mocked interview with the channel’s editor, in which they claimed they had been visiting Wiltshire to see the spire of the city’s cathedral, and other tourist attractions.

In 2019 RT was fined for breaching broadcasting impartiality rules by Ofcom in seven different programmes about the Salisbury Novichok attack.

What happened in Alex Salmond’s Good Morning Scotland interview?

Mr Salmond was repeatedly asked about the Novichok poisonings and whether or not he would agree with the widely held view that Russia was responsible.

The British Government and Metropolitan Police have pointed the finger of blame at Russia ever since the detection of Novichok, a nerve agent of Russian origin, which was independently verified.

In the summer of 2018, months after the original poisoning of former Russian intelligence agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, innocent bystander and mum Dawn Sturgess died after coming into contact with the Novichok container thought to have transported the poison to the UK.

An inquest into her death is expected to officially examine Russia’s role later this year.

But despite all this, Mr Salmond was evasive in his interview with the BBC’s GMS on April 7, 2021.

"I think the evidence is as it came forward," he told BBC Good Morning Scotland.

Mr Salmond added: "What has this got to do with this election?"

The presenter, Gary Robertson, explained it was relevant as Mr Salmond worked for RT.

Mr Salmond told him in reply: "I produce, along with Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, a programme for Slainte Media which is then broadcast on the RT platform, as they're perfectly entitled to do.

"I can tell you from personal experience - I don't know what your experience at the BBC is - not a single word of editorial instruction or even suggestion has been made to me from anyone at RT and the programme stands on its own merits."

Asked again if Russia was to blame for the Salisbury attack, Mr Salmond replied: "The evidence was presented at the time.

"I'm struggling to understand what this has got to do with a Scottish election campaign.

"It's perfectly legitimate for you to ask me about the programme I produce along with others and its broadcast on RT."

Asked a fourth time, he said: “Evidence came forward as contested, I said it should go to the international tribunals and courts.

"I said that at the time and I think the evidence came forward and people can see it for what it is.

"But what I say to you Gary is, the programme which you have suggested and segued into my views on international politics because I happen to produce a television programme which is broadcast and produced independently and broadcast on RT is quite an extraordinary thing for another broadcaster to do who should be maintaining people's right to have freedom of expression and produce programmes if they're independently produced and done."

In the same interview, Mr Salmon expressed doubts over Russia’s alleged interference in elections and referendums, such as the US election in 2016 and the Scottish independence vote.

He described evidence of meddling in American politics as “very slight”.

How did people react to Alex Salmond interview?

Politicians from various parties were quick to condemn Mr Salmond’s answers on the Salisbury attack and Russia.

SNP MP Pete Wishart posted on Twitter: "Geez! Alex Salmond with a programme on Russia Today refuses to answer the question as to whether the Russians were behind the poisoning of Sergei Skripal. Extraordinary."

While Conservative MP Andrew Bowie said: “In an interview with @BBCRadioScot's #GMS, Alex Salmond refused to accept that Russia was behind the Salisbury poisonings.

“Think about that.

“Now think, he could hold the balance of power in the Scottish Parliament in 4 weeks.

“Don't let it happen. Stick together. Vote @ScotTories.”

And ex-Scottish Conservative leader Murdo Fraser charged Mr Salmond with "desperately trying to evade" questions during the radio interview.

Other ordinary Twitter users also criticised Mr Salmond, though some pro-independence supporters waded in to say they thought the interview was bias.

Why Alex Salmond's denials matter

Mr Salmond's reluctance to condemn Russia is important and should not go unchallenged.

The appeal calling for the alleged Novichok attackers to face justice remains active.

Yes, the chances of the pair facing proper scrutiny are slim, as they will likely never leave the safety of Russia again.

But should a chance ever arise, it's important the evidence against them is given its proper weight.

The events of 2018 brought tragedy and fear to the streets of Salisbury.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons - an international, independent body - confirmed the UK's findings that Novichok, a Russian-made poison, was responsible for illness and death in Wiltshire that year.

For Mr Salmond not to even acknowledge the serious concerns that finding raises is dangerous, not to mention the trail of CCTV and other evidence painstakingly compiled by the police.

A British politician like Mr Salmond taking such a stance provides fuel for conspiracy theorists.

And it makes a mockery of the hardships endured in Salisbury and Amesbury over the past few years.

Get more Salisbury news and nominate your local heroes for the South Wiltshire Hero Awards.

You can also like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter and Instagram to stay up to date.

If you want online news with fewer ads, unlimited access and reader rewards - plus a chance to support our local journalism - find out more about registering or a digital subscription.

Email with your comments, pictures, letters and news stories.