RUSSIA presents a “theoretical threat” to Scotland’s future as an independent country, an SNP MP has warned.

Speaking at a fringe event on defence policy at the SNP conference, West Dunbartonshire MP Martin Docherty-Hughes criticised the regime of Vladimir Putin, saying his actions in Ukraine and Georgia “does give some difficulty for those who believe small nation states’ rights to exist”.

Though the formerly Georgian region of South Ossetia claims independence, it is in effect, Russian territory in all but name.

It has its own small army, but it’s the Russian border service who guard the frontiers. There are three Russian military bases with several thousand troops and, with little economy, the 35,000 people who stay there depend almost entirely on aid from Moscow.

Before the conflict in 2008, there was a population of 75,000. Georgia regards Russia’s presence as an occupation.

The MP, who is the SNP’s delegate to the Nato parliamentary assembly, went on to say Moscow were wrong to deny “the right of the nation of Georgia to remain an intact sovereign state”.

“Therefore that’s a big critical issue in terms of our future relationship with the Russian Federation,” he told delegates.

He added: “But we cannot, as a party that believes in the historic right of small nation states to exist, turn away from those who also believe they have that historic right as both a nation and as a political entity. We need to be very forceful in terms of being diplomatic and open with the Russian Federation.”

The MP continued: “There have been mistakes, let’s be quite clear, some of our allies have not made it easy for the Russian Federation since the fall of communism.

“But we must, as those who believe in small nation states, be very forceful to say that when you annex 20 per cent of the sovereign state of Georgia, it’s not acceptable.

“It’s a tangible, I suppose a theoretical threat even to our existence as an independent country.”

The Russian Federation did not respond to requests for a comment.

At the meeting, the SNP defence team also said they were working on a strategy for an independent Scotland that would build on what was in the Scottish Government’s 2014 White Paper. This, they said, would be published before any referendum.

There was little detail shared as to what would be in that plan, though Defence Spokesman Brendan O’Hara said he thought it was “inconceivable” nuclear-powered submarines would be used by the navy of an independent Scotland. He and others were very clear Faslane would have a purpose after the nuclear submarines were gone. Scrapping Trident would not mean job losses, the MPs claimed.

Answering an audience question, Steven Paterson, the MP for Stirling said he would expect the intelligence services of an independent Scotland to be based on what was already in place within the UK.

There was also some clash between the panel, made up of MPs and members of the party’s youth wing, over the age of recruitment to the British armed forces. The Young Scots For Independence group have been campaigning to have the minimum age of military recruitment upped from 16 to 18.

At the party’s ruling National Council last year, an SNP youth motion calling for the recruitment age to be increased to 18 was halted by the Westminster group.