IT is the voice of the Kremlin and it is to bellow from Edinburgh’s West End.
Sputnik News – a state mouthpiece of Vladimir Putin’s increasingly uncompromising Russian regime – has announced it is to open its first British hub in the Scottish capital next year.
The brainchild of the Russian government’s propaganda chief, Dmitri Kiselyov, Sputnik says its aim is to challenge what it regards as the news orthodoxies of the “unipolar” American-led world media.
But Russian watchers are deeply sceptical about the new organisation, the latest incarnation of Soviet-era news agency RIA Novosti and Cold War broadcaster Radio Moscow.
Sputnik, they believe, is a crude attempt to act as apologist for Kremlin policies on gay rights and Ukraine while cynically encouraging alternative views of Western powers, such as those of some Scottish nationalists.
Its decision to open up shop in Edinburgh rather than London has raised eyebrows. “This is not good news for Scotland,” said one person familiar with the way the new agency operates. “Scottish politicians in particular should keep their distance.”
Mr Kiselyov is widely seen as the architect of Russia’s attempts to spruce up its image abroad, through Sputnik and propaganda channel Russian Today. Although he has denied being a homophobe, he has been strongly linked to anti-gay policies.
During the Crimea crisis of 2014 – which the Kremlin attempted to equate with Scottish independence – Mr Kiselyov boasted that Russia was “the only country in the world capable of turning the USA into radioactive dust”.
Sputnik already has an office in Exchange Tower in Canning Street and has started recruiting radio and IT engineers.
Its full editorial team is due to be in place by the end of the year. Mr Kiselyov is eager to have non-Russians fronting the radio, video and digital output of the agency. He said: “The majority of [Sputnik News] content … will be prepared locally, by local journalists, taking into account local discussions and the demands of the local audience.”
So the agency is expected to recruit locally, as it is doing in its other new hubs around the world including Beijing, Berlin, Paris and Washington DC.
Sputnik News was launched in its current form last November and describes itself as a major new media brand with modern multimedia centres in dozens of countries, which “points the way to a multi-polar world that respects every country’s national interests, culture, history and traditions”.
It says the agency is “uniquely positioned as a provider of alternative news content and a radio broadcaster”.
Broadcasting is entirely geared toward foreign audiences and Sputnik’s editorial boards in major world capitals will maintain their own websites and broadcast from local radio stations.
A spokesman for Sputnik News said: “We plan to start operations in Edinburgh early next year, as soon as our radio studios are ready.
“Sputnik UK editorial team is currently being built and might consist of circa 15 people.
“We already started hiring technical staff – radio and IT engineers, our editorial team will be formed by the end of the year.”
Sputnik websites are available in more than 80 cities and in over 30 languages, including English, Arabic, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Polish, Portuguese, Serbian, Turkish, French and Hindi.
Its websites carry a variety of content including infographics, video, photo essays, live video and audio streaming and internet voting.
Sputnik also publishes analytical material and exclusive interviews.
Its news wires run round the clock in English, Arabic, Spanish and Chinese and include a wide range of polls.
One of Sputnik’s key straplines is “telling the untold”.
A spokesman for the Consulate General of Russia in Edinburgh said: “It is very good to see Sputnik UK head office being opened in Edinburgh.
“It will make this historic city even more outward looking, broaden the scope of internationally acknowledged media sources available for British and global audience interested in the local as well as world events.
“We wish Sputnik UK team in Edinburgh good luck in leaving no stories untold.”
An economy spokesman from the City of Edinburgh Council said: “Edinburgh is the most prosperous UK city outside London and the city’s economy continues to grow.
“Last year Edinburgh was second only to London in the UK for foreign direct investment, and this attracts international businesses to the city.
“The arrival of Sputnik News is yet another example of Edinburgh’s broad international appeal.”
Source: Brian Donnelly, Herald Scotland