EU cyber team raises alarm over Russian role in Catalonia independence bid

The European Union has expressed alarm at the increasing propaganda role being played by Russia in the push for Catalonian independence.

Romanian MEP Victor Bostinaru, vice chair of the Social Democratic group in the European Parliament, on Thursday said he had evidence of Russian interference in the Catalan crisis.

Mr Bostinaru called Catalonia “another case of perverse interference” by Russian-backed media organisations and hackers with the aim of destabilising the EU, which has supported Spain in its crackdown on the Catalonian pro-independence movement.

“We mustn’t be naive: behind those words and those slogans favourable to the independence movement, there are hidden intentions.”

It came as the speaker of Catalonia’s parliament and five of her former parliamentary colleagues were questioned by a judge in Madrid as criminal suspects in connection with the region’s unlawful declaration of independence.

Eight members of Mr Puigdemont’s former government are currently in prison suspected of committing rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.

A specialist team created to detect and combat Russian cyberattacks against the EU said there has been an increase in campaigns aimed at aggravating the crisis in Catalonia.

The East Stratcom Task Force has compiled a dossier of examples from news sites such as Sputnik which it claims carries  false claims about the Catalan conflict, such as the idea that the Balearic Islands also wanted to declare independence from Spain.

Members of the East Stratcom team, operated by the EU’s foreign affairs arm, told Spain’s El País newspaper that the Kremlin invests one billion euros per year in public news media outlets such as Russia Today and Sputnik.

“The objective of the disinformation campaign whose objective is to destabilise the West, exploiting existing divisions or creating new, artificial ones.”

The deposed Catalonian president Carles Puigdemont has criticised the European Union for its “shameful support” for what he considers Spanish state repression.

In a letter posted on his Twitter feed on Thursday, Mr Puigdemont said that Spain’s imposition of direct rule over Catalonia and the imprisoning of activists and politicians were “clearly contrary to the rule of law and the rules of the European Union”.

But Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, on Thursday rejected the secessionist aspirations of any region within the EU.

“I say no to any form of separatism that adds division to the existing structures,” Mr Juncker said in front of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in the university city of Salamanca, where he picked up an honoris causa doctorate.

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