RUSSIA has an “interest” in the Scottish independence debate online, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said, but he refused to reveal any more for security reasons.

The Tory MP said that Russia has an interest in “magnifying division in nationalist debates” including in Scotland.

Wallace also said that Russian president Vladimir Putin would not respect Scotland more if it removed the Trident nuclear deterrent post-independence.

During a briefing with Scottish journalists, Wallace was probed on the Russian state’s interest in the debate around the constitution.

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Asked if there was any evidence of Russian interference in the current Scottish independence debate online, Wallace said: “I think what we’ve seen is Russia and other nations take an interest to magnify division in nationalist debates around Europe, including Scotland.

“I can’t talk about the here and now [for security reasons] but I could say there is an interest – and more than that.”

Last year Westminster’s Intelligence and Security Committee concluded Russian interference in UK politics was the new normal and that there was “credible open-source commentary that Russia undertook to influence campaigns in relation to the Scottish independence referendum in 2014”.

Asked about the SNP disputing that finding, Wallace said: “As security minister at the time – not 2014, but as a security minister after that – I’ll take the word of the Westminster committee over the SNP.”

And, asked if he had seen evidence of Russian interference in the 2014 referendum, he said: “I can’t comment on what I see in intelligence matters.”

In September, SNP members agreed during their party conference that nuclear weapons should be removed from Scotland within the first three years of the country becoming independent.

It came after the Financial Times published leaked proposals earlier this month which revealed ministers in London could seek to shift lease the base from a Scottish state.

Other suggestions include shifting the nuclear submarines and missiles to France or America.

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Asked if the removal of Trident from an independent Scotland would play into President Putin’s hands, Wallace said: “Well I’d certainly say that Russia’s aggression doesn’t know any boundaries when it comes to whether the country is big or small. Russia certainly exploits vulnerabilities in smaller countries, I notice.

“If you look at its role in corrupting political systems or indeed trying to weaken countries such as the Baltic states etc., it’ll try everything it can do to spread division.

“So, would Putin respect Scotland more because it didn’t have nuclear weapons? No, I don’t think so.

“He doesn’t have any track record of leaving alone countries without nuclear weapons. In fact, sometimes it’s quite the opposite.”