SHE knows what you’re up to Vladimir, so you’d better clean up your campaign of media disinformation double quick. I’m sure the Russian President is shaking in his jodhpurs at Theresa May’s warning in her Guild Hall speech, which sounded a bit like a head teacher giving S4 a lecture on cheating in exams.

There’s no evidence that the Fancy Bears or other Russian-based hackers have been at work in UK elections, as they have apparently in the US, spreading fake news and Trump memes. But the Prime Minister said that Mr Putin is “seeking to weaponise information” directed at Britain, “by deploying its state-run media organisations”. She presumably means the Edinburgh-based Sputnik news agency and Russia Today, the English-language TV news channel, which in 2014 had around 100,000 UK viewers, and which is about to host a programme presented by our own Alex Salmond.

The implication is that Scotland is being used as an ideological beach head in the Kremlin’s information war. Scottish politicians from Ruth Davidson to Patrick Harvie have been hastily distancing themselves from RT and Sputnik, for which they have given interviews in the past. They don’t want to be collateral damage. But the former First Minister is made of sterner stuff and insists he is not peddling a Kremlin line. So where does Russia Today come from?

According to the former BBC journalist Angus Roxburgh, who briefly worked for Putin’s press spokesman Dmitry Peskov, it all goes back to the “colour” revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan between 2004 and 2005. The Kremlin believed – with some justification –that the US State Department was tacitly assisting the democracy campaigners in their efforts to overthrow pro-Russian leaders like Ukraine’s Viktor Janukovych. Vladimir Putin was convinced that the cold war was resuming.

The Kremlin believed, again with some justification, that Russia’s image as portrayed on global TV channels like CNN and the BBC in these years was as the oppressor – as if it were still run by the Communists. The Kremlin could not afford to fall behind in what Dmitry Peskov called “political technology”. And so in 2005, Russia Today was born: an English-language TV news channel modelled on CNN and the BBC. It was financed by $30m directly from Mr Putin and run from the headquarters of RIA Novosti, the Russian state news agency in Moscow.

Unlike the BBC, RT is under direct political control and is not an independent broadcaster. However, Mr Putin is media-savvy enough to realise that an old-style, cold war propaganda vehicle like Radio Moscow is old hat. Soft power means promoting Russia’s interests by hiring genuine journalists, often from the West, and allowing them freedom to report stories so long as they’re from a “broadly Russian perspective”. Russia Today’s mission statement was: “There’s more to Russia than communism, snow and poverty”. During the South Ossetia war in 2008 between Russia and Georgia, it challenged Western news reports that blamed Russia for launching hostilities and insisted that Georgia fired first - a claim later upheld by a European Union inquiry. It was Russia Today’s finest hour.

Lately, the station has been rebranded as RT with the strapline “Question More”. RT gave extensive coverage to the Occupy movement and the campaign against the bedroom tax in the UK. It has attracted a following among left-wingers and Scottish nationalists who mistrust the “establishment” BBC. Jeremy Corbyn used to be an RT contributor and applauded Russia Today for being “more objective” on issues like the Libyan war. It has specialised in hiring anti-establishment figures like Julian Assange, who had a show on RT in 2012, the former Respect MP, George Galloway, and our own Alex Salmond, who has been commissioned to provide a weekly chat show via his company Slainte media.

There is no dispute that RT is an arm of the Russian state and never criticises Mr Putin at home or abroad. However, that doesn’t mean that all of its journalism is valueless – any more than every story in the Daily Mail or on Fox News is untrue. Many journalists see little difference between working for RT and working for right-wing proprietors like Rupert Murdoch. The difference of course is that Russia Today is an extension of a regime that places little value freedom of expression, human rights and effectively censors most domestic news.

Like many journalists, I’ve done interviews for RT, mostly promoting my books. I don’t any more, in common with those Scottish politicians who’re all now avoiding the station. But I’m not entirely sure boycotting any news outlet, even a Russian one, makes a great deal of sense. Provided you know where it is coming from, and provided your interviews are not distorted, appearing on RT is really no different from appearing on Fox News or Al Jazeera. Moreover, if the Russian state broadcaster is prepared to air the views of politicians and journalists who don’t support the Putin regime, then that is surely to be encouraged. Not giving interviews is a kind of no platforming-in-reverse, and only feeds the paranoia of those in the Kremlin who believe Western freedom of speech is a con.

However, it is one thing doing the odd interview for RT; quite another to allow your personal brand to be identified with it. Mr Salmond can answer for himself, but I think it’s a mistake for the former leader of the SNP to present a weekly programme on RT – even though he has editorial freedom. He’s right that RT is a legitimate station with a licence to broadcast in the UK, regulated by Ofcom. However, Mr Salmond has made himself a easy target for his political opponents as a “tool of the Kremlin”, “Putin’s friend”, “useful idiot”. These are attacks the SNP really could do without. Nicola Sturgeon has made very clear that she does not approve of her predecessor’s choice of medium.

Mind you, if Mr Salmond’s programme starts doing items on Ukrainian nationalism, the independence movement in South Ossetia, and the suppression of human rights in autonomous Russian territories, I will certainly retract any criticism. And I’ll certainly be watching.