In Brief

Catalan crisis: did Russian hackers fuel separatism?

Fake social media accounts allegedly spread propaganda to stoke Spanish independence row

Spain’s struggle with Catalan separatists may have been exacerbated by Russian hackers engaged in a propaganda effort to divide Europe, it was reported yesterday.

The Spanish government-backed Elcano Royal Institute, in Madrid, says that unidentified Russian “troll” accounts spread inflamatory messages and claims - some true, some false - on social media in the run-up to the 1 October independence referendum.

“Russia has a nationalist agenda, and it supports nationalist, populist movements in Europe because that serves to divide Europe,” senior analyst Mira Milosevich told Bloomberg.

The Kremlin has used the Catalan crisis “to deepen divisions within Europe and consolidate its international influence”, Spanish newspaper El Pais reported in late September, days before the vote.

According to the paper, an influential tweet about the referendum posted by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange - still languishing in Equator’s London embassy - went viral as a result of activity on fake social media accounts.

“We’re seeing foreign actors gain more of a voice in elections that are important to their interests,” Ben Nimmo, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank, told Politico shortly before the Spanish vote.

El Pais also claims that Russian news outlet RT used its Spanish-language portal “to spread stories on the Catalan crisis with a bias against constitutional legality”.

However, Spain’s ambassador to Russia told RT in October that Spain endorsed Russia’s stance and that the two nations enjoy “great relations”.

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