Barcelona, Spain — In the spring of 2019, the messenger of Catalonia’s best separatist leaders visited Moscow in search of a political lifeline.
The Catalan independence movement, a semi-autonomous region of northeastern Spain, has largely collapsed as a result of a referendum two years ago. The European Union and the United States, which supported Spain’s efforts to keep the country intact, rejected the petition for separatist support.
But in Russia, the door was open.
In Moscow, a messenger, Joseph Luis Alley, a senior adviser to former Catalan President Carles Puccimon, who has been exiled, met with current Russian officials, former intelligence officers, and the connected grandchildren of the KGB Spymaster. According to a European intelligence report reviewed by the New York Times, its purpose was to secure Russia’s support to separate Catalonia from the rest of Spain.
Asked about the report’s findings, Alley and Puccimon confirmed an unreported trip to Moscow, but said they were part of a regular approach to foreign officials and journalists. Insisted. Mr Alley said his proposal for Russian help was “a fantasy story created by Madrid.”
However, other confidential documents show that Russia was a central concern between Mr. Array and Mr. Puccimon.
For Russia, the separatist approach would fit in with President Vladimir Putin’s strategy to disperse the turmoil in the West by supporting a divisive political movement. In Italy, secret audio recordings have revealed plans to secretly fund Russia’s strong Union Party. In the UK, a Times survey revealed a discussion between right-wing fringes on opening a bank account in Moscow. In Spain, Russians are also providing support to far-right parties, according to intelligence reports.
Many of the officials he met in Moscow, whether Mr. Array knew it or not, were involved in what became known as the hybrid warfare against the West of the Kremlin. This is propaganda and disinformation, secret financing for destructive political movements, information hacking and leakage (which happened in the 2016 US presidential election), and assassinations intended to undermine the stability of Moscow’s enemies. It is a hierarchical strategy that includes such “active measures”.
It is unclear what support the Kremlin provided to Catalan separatists. However, shortly after Alay’s trip to Moscow in 2019, a secret protest group, Tsunami Democratic, emerged. This disrupted operations at Barcelona’s airport and blocked the major highways connecting Spain and Northern Europe. A confidential police report by the Spanish Guardia Civil, obtained by The Times, found Alay involved in the creation of a protest group.
The secret 700-page transcript of the text message shows the collaborative efforts made by Mr. Array of Mr. Puccimon’s circle and others to foster relationships with Russians with links to national intelligence. ..
“I’m thinking a lot about Russia,” Alay wrote to Puigdemont on August 23, last year. “And these days, it’s all very, very complicated.”
Rumors of Russia’s involvement in Catalonia first appeared shortly after Mr. Puccimon’s government held an independence referendum in October 2017. The referendum was overwhelmingly passed, and most anti-separatist voters boycotted. Spanish officials declared it illegal and imprisoned political leaders who did not flee abroad.
Spanish officials later determined that Russian professional military intelligence group operatives called Unit 29155, associated with a coup and attempted assassination in Europe, were in Catalonia at the time of the referendum, but Spain played. An active role that does not provide evidence.
Many Catalan independence leaders have accused Madrid authorities of using the ghosts of Russian interference to hurt what they described as a grassroots movement of the general public. The referendum was supported by a fragile coalition of three political parties that soon broke up over the ideological and strategic debate. Former journalist Puccimon, with a Beatles-like hair mop, has avoided compromise, even if some parties sought a negotiated settlement with Madrid.
Asked about working with Russia, the current Catalan government under President Pere Aragonés has moved away from Mr. Puccimon.
“These trips to Moscow were not made on behalf of the Catalan government, but without the knowledge of Pere Aragonés,” said Aragon’s spokesman Sergi Sabria. “These people are not even part of the presidential party, which is unaware of the agenda of other parties.”
To connect with Russia, the Times used a 10-page European intelligence report. Its contents have been confirmed by two Spanish authorities. Case files from two separate confidential investigations by Barcelona and Madrid Justice of the Peace. This includes a copy of the text, but there are no accusations related to the Moscow Conference. Interviews with Catalan independent politicians and activists, as well as security officials in Spain and abroad.
According to the June 2020 Intelligence Report, Alay, along with Russian businessman Alexander Dmitrenko, will provide Russia with financial and technical assistance to create a bank, telecommunications and energy sector separate from Spain. I asked. According to the report, the pair, along with Puccimon’s lawyer Gonzalo Boy, of violent Russian criminal syndication as part of an effort to establish a secret funding pipeline to fund their activities. I also consulted with the leader.
A text message taken from his phone when he was temporarily arrested in October 2020 helps to support some of the intelligence reports.
“We work for Americans,” Alay said at one point, referring to an FX show about the profound KGB executives in the United States.
I wasn’t kidding. According to the Intelligence Report, two of his main contacts in Russia were a couple team of intelligence officers, whose story helped inspire the series.
“Good news from Moscow”
The Catalan independence movement has gained momentum for a decade, but by 2019 it was in turmoil.
Nine leaders of the movement have been imprisoned and were soon sentenced to long-term imprisonment for their role in the referendum. (Everyone was pardoned this summer.) Others, including Mr. Puccimon, who lives in Belgium and is now a member of the European Parliament, have fled Spain. Against the rail “Silence of major European institutions”.
The European Union has declared the Catalan Independence Referendum illegal. In contrast, Russia’s position was more vague. President Vladimir Putin described the Catalan separatist movement as a revival of Europe to support the independence movement of Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“There were times when they welcomed the collapse of a series of European governments and did not hide their happiness about this,” Putin said. “We always talk about double standards. Please.”
In March 2019, Mr. Array visited Moscow just weeks after the leaders of the Catalan independence movement were tried. Three months later, Alay went again.
In Russia, according to intelligence reports, Mr. Alley and Mr. Domitrenko met with several active foreign intelligence officers and Oleg V. Siromorotov, a former counterintelligence director of the Federal Security Service, Russia’s domestic intelligence agency. He oversees counterterrorism as a deputy minister of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Mr. Alley denied the meeting between Mr. Shiromorotov and the officers, but allowed a meeting with Yevgeny Primakov, the grandson of the famous KGB spymaster, to secure the interview …