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Russian military intelligence is believed to have been involved in organizing mass protests and blocking El -Prat Airport and communication routes in Barcelona, Spain following a by the Spanish Supreme Court decision to imprison leaders of the separatist movement for Catalonia’s independence. This may be the first time that hybrid tasks have been focused for Western European infrastructure.
The Russian Federation sees Catalan separatism as a two components task: the weakening of the European Union and the precedent of legitimizing the referendum for independence result, which is important for recognizing the legitimate annexation of Crimea.
This is the second large-scale action involving Russian mil intelligence after French protests of “yellow vests”, which revealed several people involved in the operations of the mil intel department (GRU), including combatants from pro-Russian separatist units in Donbas.
Russia is actively involved in supporting separatism in Spain. This is indicated by the report of the National Cryptology Center of Spain (CCN), which is responsible for the national protection against cyberattacks of networks of public administrations, In 2017 their report recognized the impact of the Russian Federation in events in Catalonia. Spanish intelligence pointed to the presence of activists funded by Russian institutions in the coverage of separatist events in Catalonia aimed at withdrawing from Spain. Also, in November 2017, Spanish Government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigota and Defense Minister Maria Dolores de Cospedal, declared that Russian and Venezuelan hackers were interfering with the Catalan crisis. Russia’s involvement in the Catalan crisis in 2018 has also been confirmed by German counterintelligence chief Hans-Georg Massen.
Now Russia is testing hybrid mechanisms of information and political organization of mass actions in the countries of the European Union with gradual transition to more precise measures. Testing of transport infrastructure blocking capabilities has been tested in Spain. In particular, calls for the seizure of El-Prat Airport were spread through social networks.
Protests in Barcelona reaffirm the Kremlin’s ability to organize hybrid events with riots in a single EU country. But in the future, there are likely to be attempts to organize parallel synchronized operations in several countries at the same time.
Still the main focus remains on operations interfering with the will and public opinion: elections and referendums.