Spain Sees Russian Interference in Catalonia Separatist Vote

中央日報
Catalan Raimon Castellvi wears a flag with an Estelada (Catalan separatist flag) as he protests outside the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium on Oct. 2, 2017 after an independence referendum in Catalonia. /Reuters

Madrid believes Russian-based groups used online social media to heavily promote Catalonia's independence referendum last month in an attempt to destabilize Spain, Spanish ministers said Monday.

Spain's defense and foreign ministers said they had evidence that state and private-sector Russian groups, as well as groups in Venezuela, used Twitter, Facebook and other Internet sites to massively publicize the separatist cause and swing public opinion behind it in the run-up to the Oct. 1 referendum.

Catalonia's separatist leaders have denied that Russian interference helped them in the vote.

"What we know today is that much of this came from Russian territory," Spanish Defense Minister Maria Dolores de Cospedal said of Russian-based internet support.

"These are groups that, public and private, are trying to influence the situation and create instability in Europe," she told reporters at a meeting of EU foreign and defense ministers in Brussels.

Asked if Madrid was certain of the accusations, Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis, also at the meeting, said: "Yes, we have proof."

Dastis said Spain had detected false accounts on social media, half of which were traced back to Russia and another 30 percent to Venezuela, created to amplify the benefits of the separatist cause by re-publishing messages and posts.

Ramon Tremosa, the EU lawmaker for the PDeCat party of Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont, repeated on Monday that Russian interference had played no part in the referendum.

"Those that say Russia is helping Catalonia are those that have helped the Russian fleet in recent years, despite the EU's boycott," Tremosa tweeted, referring to Spanish media reports that Spain was allowing Russian warships to refuel at its ports.

Those who voted in the referendum opted overwhelmingly for independence. But turnout was only about 43 percent as Catalans who favor remaining part of Spain mainly boycotted the ballot.

The separatist vote has plunged Spain, the eurozone's fourth-biggest economy, into its worst constitutional crisis since its return to democracy in the 1970s.

Dastis said he had raised the issue with the Kremlin.

Moscow has repeatedly denied any such interference and accuses the West of a campaign to discredit Russia.

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