Russia’s informational interference in Catalan crisis

Author : Georgiy Kuhaleyshvili

Source : 112 Ukraine

Russia defends its own interests in the European countries with the help of veiled provocations, denying its participation
10:00, 9 October 2017

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Associated Press

Political crisis continues in the Spanish autonomous community of Catalonia. October 1, Catalonian officials held a referendum on the independence of their region without the permission of the Spanish government. About 90% of the Catalans who took part in the illegal referendum voted for separation from Spain. According to El Pais, the organizers of the referendum have bought 10,000 ballot boxes in China and imported them into Spanish Catalonia through the territory of the Catalan regions in France. Not all Catalans took part in the separatist referendum (2.26 million out of 5.34 million). The turnout was 42%. Half of the Catalan society simply ignored the referendum. There have been clashes between Spanish law enforcers, separation supporters and those Catalans who want to remain a part of Spain. 893 people were injured as a result of the collisions.

October 9, Parliament of Catalonia will hold a plenum in order to discuss the results of the referendum and make a decision on the declaration of independence. Two separatist parties are currently ruling Catalonia. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called the pseudo-referendum in Catalonia a mockery of democracy, and the Spanish King Philip VI accused the separatist leaders of splitting Catalan society.

America and Europe are took the side of the Spanish government. European Commission confirmed that, according to Spanish law, the referendum on the independence of Catalonia was not legitimate. Even if the referendum were organized in accordance with the Spanish constitution, the separated territory would be outside the EU. The EU has just condemned the acts of violence and urged all parties to set a dialogue. In September, US President Donald Trump, during a meeting with the Spanish prime minister, called on the Catalans to remain a part of Spain.

Related: Catalonia referendum: 90,18% for independence with 43% voter turnout

Russian President Putin expressed his feelings for Spain and called the events in Catalonia "the internal affair of the Spanish government." Kremlin representative Dmitry Peskov stressed that Russia does not even consider the possibility for intervention. It is no secret that Russia is an active sponsor of separatism in Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, and its supporters are the subjects of provocations and intrigues in European countries.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia, Edgar Rinkevich, called to think about probable Russia’s participation in the referendum on the independence of Catalonia. The Latvian minister compared the separatist referendum in Catalonia to the candy that had fallen to the floor, and Russia used the situation to split the EU. Official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova called Rinkevich "aggregator of fake news," denying Russia's involvement in Catalan separatism.

Moscow’s reaction on the events in Catalonia is not something surprising. Russian politicians do not make sense in openly supporting centrifugal tendencies of the EU member states. Now Moscow has difficult relationships with Brussels, Paris, and Berlin, which are not going to abolish anti-Russian sanctions until the Russian Federation stops aggression in Ukraine. If there is at least one proof of the ties between the Russian authorities and the Catalan separatists, Europe will again accuse Russia of interfering in its political processes, and this will become a reasonable argument for tightening anti-Russian sanctions. In fact, such centrifugal tendencies exist in Italy, France, Britain, and Belgium.

Related: Not by Catalonia alone: The most famous cases of separatism in Europe

Russia defends its own interests in the European countries with the help of veiled provocations, denying its participation. Russia's influence is strengthened by separate media, political forces and individuals who formally have nothing to do with the Russian Federation, but take a point of view, which beneficial to the Kremlin. Let us remember Montenegro in 2016. The leader of the far right organization "Serbian Wolves" Aleksandar Sindjelic participated in organizing an unsuccessful coup to disrupt the entry of the Balkan country into NATO. Earlier, he recruited Serbian volunteers to help Russian army during annexation of Crimea. State Duma deputy from "United Russia" party Sergei Zheleznyak contacted representatives of the pro-Russian opposition "Democratic Front of Montenegro," which supported the holding of a referendum against Montenegro’s entry into NATO.

Kremlin agents have influenced the separatist referendum in Catalonia. A few days before the referendum, El Pais wrote about it. Rinkevich has only stated the facts. Journalist David Alandete is convinced that Russian news agencies used the referendum on Catalonia's independence to destabilize Europe. Russian media published articles in different languages, depicting Spanish government and the law enforcement system in a negative way and accusing them of repressive politics in Catalonia. Although all supporters of street clashes, including separatists, use force. Since August 28, Russian edition of Russia Today (RT) has published 42 articles in Spanish, among which there were headlines that the EU allegedly "recognizes the independence of Catalonia." Another Russian news site Sputnik has published more than 200 articles on Catalonia since September 27, some of which covered the separatist referendum in a positive light. Contrary to the official position of the Kremlin on "non-interference" in Spanish affairs, RIA Novosti news agency conducted a poll among residents of Sevastopol about the referendum on the independence of Catalonia. Someone has expressed his view that the events in Catalonia confirm weakening of the so-called "internal bonds" of the European Union, while Sevastopol and Crimea gave the world an example of how to listen to the will of the people and react to it.

Related: Ukraine considers referendum in Catalonia illegitimate, - MFA

Kremlin used public figures with a large number of subscribers in the Catalan crisis. Australian journalist Julian Assange, founder of the WikiLeaks website, who published classified information from different countries, called for the support of Catalonia's independence and accused Spain of repression. He believes that the prospect of a new country or a civil war will depend on the actions of the EU. Assange is known for his appearing on the Russian TV channel RT. He often emphasizes Russia's superiority over the West in various contexts. Former CIA analyst Edward Snowden, who has sent to the media information about the total surveillance of the US government for his citizens and currently lives in Russia, accused Spanish government of violating human rights in Catalonia. Comments of Snowden and Assange are widely spread in the social networks. Director of the AntiWar website Justin Raimondo, who has a reputation as Russia’s supporter of in the United States, wrote an article comparing the riots in Barcelona with the dispersal of a democratic demonstration in Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989.

Russia supports Catalan separatists through representatives of the "fourth power" in order to form a stereotype in the Western information space that Catalonia is a victim of the repressive policy of Spain, and the only way out of this predicament is the independence of the region.

The ties between the Kremlin and the Catalans have existed for a long time. During the Civil War in Spain (1936-1939), the Catalan left supported the Republican Army and received aid from the USSR. In 1936-1937, Soviet military adviser Ivan Chusov served together with head of the staff of the Catalan Army. Soviet Union has granted a loan of $ 50 million to the Spanish Republicans on the defense of the phalanctists.

The author fails to mention that Catalonia had the main base of the strongest anti-Stalinist adherents of the republic – anarcho-syndicalists from the National Confederation of Labor (CNL) and non-Orthodox Marxists from the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification (WPMU), in whose ranks George Orwell fought. In his "Homage to Catalonia," he recalls how the Stalinist emissaries from the USSR returned weapons against their own allies, Catalan anarchists and Trotskyites, abducting and killing many of their activists, including the leader of the WPMU Andrés Nin Pérez - Ed.

Related: Catalonia's separatism threatens the EU more than Spain itself

Independent Catalonia is interesting to Russia as a new European state that would recognize Crimea as a Russian territory. If the Catalan parliament proclaims independence of its region, Russian media will promote the idea of the need for its recognition. Through the efforts of Russia, separatist formations (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) were recognized by Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Nauru. The Catalan separatists are supported by the President of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, who called on them to resist the Spanish authorities. Russian propagandists will use the Catalan precedent to justify the annexation of the Crimea. Say, if Catalonia separated from Spain by referendum results, then Crimea has grounds for withdrawing from Ukraine and joining the Russian Federation. The deepening of the crisis in Catalonia will distract the attention of the EU from the aggression of Russia in Ukraine. The European Union will give priority to resolving internal problems and preserving the common European unity.

Despite the fact that Catalan leadership supports the preservation of the membership of its region in the EU and NATO, some Catalans take part in provocative events in Russia. Catalonian politicians took part in both world separatists’ congresses in Moscow in 2015 and 2016, which have anti-globalization implications. Russia can become a "spare airfield" for Catalonia in economic terms. If the EU and Spain freeze trade and economic relations with the region, Catalan separatists may try to survive at the expense of trade with Russia. The products produced and sold by Catalan entrepreneurs make up 25% of Spain's exports, and the key partners are EU member countries (77.8%). Important sectors of Catalonia’s economy, in addition to services and high technology, are production of food, clothing, consumer goods, which can come to the Russian market. About 70% of Russian tourists, who visit Spain, necessarily go to Barcelona.

Ukraine did not recognize the legitimacy of the referendum in Catalonia at the official level. Despite Russia's aggression and the presence of separatist formations in the east, part of the Ukrainian society for some reason sympathizes with the Catalan separatists, compares their attempts to gain independence with the national liberation struggle of the Ukrainian people. Ukrainian journalist Vitaly Portnikov believes that if at the official level Ukraine does not recognize the independence of Catalonia, it does not mean that ordinary Ukrainians should not support the Catalans, because our country also proclaimed independence in 1991.

Individual patriotically minded and critical Ukrainians who are aware of the negative consequences of Russian aggression for Ukraine do not see anything illegal in Catalan separatism, believing that every nation has a so-called "right to self-determination".

Related: Referendum in Catalonia illegal, - European Commission

It is hard to argue, the separatism of Catalonia is not like separatism in the east of Ukraine in some aspects. Crimea would still be part of Ukraine, if not for the creeping occupation of the peninsula by Russian troops and the indecision of Ukrainian politicians who did not order the Ukrainian military to resist the invaders on the peninsula. "Luhansk People’s Republic" and "Donetsk People’s Republic" (LPR and DPR) are products of Russian aggression in Ukraine, and they would not exist if the Russian army did not keep these territories under its control. Catalan separatists act without military assistance from neighboring countries.

It should be understood that independence of Catalonia is an object of information speculation in Russia. Supporting the Catalans at the domestic level and publishing posts about them in social networks, Ukrainian citizens create convenient arguments for the Donbas separatists, who demand the recognition of the independence of the "DPR" and "LPR". Separatism, wherever it took place, presupposes the split of the country. The reasons might be different, but the essence and consequences are a violation of the territorial integrity of the internationally recognized states.

Related: Referendum in Catalonia is inner affair of Spain, - Russia

Support for any separatist movements does not correspond to Ukraine's national interests, because we have our own problems with territorial integrity. Government of Spain protects its sovereignty and uses all possible measures for this. Spain supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine and is a supporter of anti-Russian sanctions. This is a serious reason to draw a clear line and respect Madrid's right to preserve its territorial integrity.



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