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Russian Influence Operative Offered $500 Billion and 10,000 Armed Soldiers to Catalonian Leaders to Break With Madrid

June 9th, 2022 14:47

The Orga­nized Crime and Cor­rup­tion Report­ing Project (OCCRP), an inter­na­tion­al con­sor­tium of jour­nal­ists, report­ed last month that a Russ­ian influ­ence oper­a­tive offered to give the Cat­alo­ni­ans $500 bil­lion and 10,000 armed sol­diers to aid their attempts to make the region an inde­pen­dent state in 2017. Cat­alon­ian lead­ers referred to the man, iden­ti­fied as Niko­lai Sadovnikov, as “Putin’s envoy.” Accord­ing to the OCCRP report:

May 8, 2022 In the run-up to Catalonia’s his­toric 2017 par­lia­men­tary vote to declare inde­pen­dence from Spain, the leader of the restive region received a shock­ing offer. A mys­te­ri­ous “Russ­ian group” report­ed­ly offered pres­i­dent Car­les Puigde­mont mon­ey and 10,000 armed sol­diers to make the break with Madrid.  This infor­ma­tion emerged in 2020 in the Span­ish media, but since then lit­tle more has been known about what exact­ly hap­pened. Now, for the first time, a joint inves­ti­ga­tion by OCCRP, El Per­iódi­co, Belling­cat, IRPI, Il Fat­to Quo­tid­i­ano, and iSto­ries reveals key new details about that offer, how it was made — and by whom.  As it turns out, Puigde­mont met with men who pre­sent­ed them­selves as envoys of the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment in the Casa dels Canonges, his offi­cial res­i­dence, on the eve of Catalonia’s inde­pen­dence vote.  Chief among his inter­locu­tors was Niko­lai Sadovnikov, whom Cat­alon­ian inde­pen­dence lead­ers pri­vate­ly described as “Putin’s envoy.” The for­mer Sovi­et and Russ­ian diplo­mat had a his­to­ry of rep­re­sent­ing the Krem­lin in sen­si­tive con­flict areas and had been noticed by at least one West­ern intel­li­gence agency, which flagged him as hav­ing a direct line to the Russ­ian head of state.

Read the full report here.

The report notes that the involve­ment of a fig­ure with Sadovnikov’s resume sug­gests that Moscow’s efforts to foment divi­sion in Spain may have been more seri­ous than pre­vi­ous­ly known. Rus­sia has a long his­to­ry of sup­port­ing seces­sion­ist move­ments in Europe, and the links between Rus­sia and sep­a­ratist lead­ers in Spain go back to the Sovi­et era.

Recent Glob­al Influ­ence Oper­a­tions Report cov­er­age of Russ­ian attempts to sup­port polit­i­cal move­ments in Europe in order to foment divi­sion has included:

  • In March, we report­ed on leaked emails and doc­u­ments that show how close­ly a Russ­ian influ­ence group is coop­er­at­ing with a host of far-right politi­cians and activists in Europe.
  • Last Novem­ber, we report­ed that a draft report by the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment cit­ed evi­dence of Russ­ian inter­fer­ence and online infor­ma­tion manip­u­la­tion in many lib­er­al democ­ra­cies around the world. This includ­ed the Brex­it ref­er­en­dum in the Unit­ed King­dom, the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in France and the US, and prac­ti­cal sup­port for far-right and oth­er rad­i­cal-mind­ed forces and actors across Europe, includ­ing France, Ger­many, Italy, and Austria.”
  • In May 2021, we report­ed that a Russ­ian in con­tact with orga­ni­za­tions affil­i­at­ed with Russ­ian Pres­i­dent Putin tried to donate over 250,000 Euros to a new­ly-found­ed polit­i­cal par­ty in the Netherlands.