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Russia ‘Pushed Fake News’ in Catalonian Independence Fight

The European Union has voiced concerns that Russia has pushed propaganda aimed at destabilizing Spain during the Catalonian independence crisis.

Victor Bostinaru, vice chair of the Social Democratic group in the European Parliament and Romanian MEP, said on Thursday he had evidence that the Russians had interfered in the Catalan crisis, as reported by the Daily Telegraph.

A specialist EU team that detects and counters Russian cyberattacks, the East Stratcom Task Force, has reported an increase in campaigns aimed at aggravating the crisis, in what is a clear echo of the charges made against Russia in the U.S. election campaign last year, and the French and German election campaigns this year. Reports have also suggested recently that Russian media also used similar tactics in the U.K. during its Brexit referendum (and the Scottish independence referendum in 2014). The common thread that runs through all is the aim of deepening divides within countries that are members of NATO, Russia’s traditional bogeyman, and the EU.

The EU team alleged that websites such as Sputnik had spread false notions such as the idea that the Balearic Islands also wanted to declare independence – a claim not supported by any opinion poll or by the islands’ local assemblies.

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

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Six Catalan MPs are currently being questioned in Spain’s supreme court for their roles in staging a banned referendum on independence, facing allegations of rebellion and sedition. Carme Forcadell, the former speaker of Catalonia’s parliament, was released on bail Thursday after promising not to violate the constitution again.

But as Spain’s crackdown on the leaders of the independence bid progresses, there are increasing signs of die-hard separatists stepping up direct action. Calls for strike action have started to draw bigger responses, and protesters wrought havoc by blocking the region’s railroad tracks earlier this week.

Such actions have revived concerns of more disruption if the Supreme Court decides to keep the other rebel lawmakers in custody.

Russia has spent heavily in subsidizing foreign-language media under the Rossiya Segodnya holding, which includes both Sputnik and the broadcaster RT, in recent years. That’s despite a collapse in government revenue due to falling oil prices and western sanctions. Its budget for the coming year is close to one billion euros ($1.16 billion).

The U.S. Department of Justice Thursday demanded that RT register as a Foreign Agent by Monday, under the terms of a law that was first drafted in 1938 to stop Nazi Germany stoking up trouble in the U.S..