Spain's Civil Guard has claimed that, in 2017, Russia made an offer to Catalan president Carles Puigdemont which would have been a geopolitical bombshell: the country led by Vladimir Putin offered to pay Catalonia's international debt and to make available 10,000 soldiers to the Catalan authorities, at the time of the Catalan referendum on independence from Spain. This is stated in a just-released court document, to which ElNacional.cat has had access, in which a judge explains the basis for today's major operation in Catalonia by the Spanish paramilitary corps, which ended with the arrests of 21 people linked to the Catalan independence process.
Not only that. The interlocutory document released by the judge of Barcelona investigative court number 1, which refers to this Russian offer at several points, states: "In the autumn of 2017, Russia offered to support Carles Puigdemont if he declared independence to the extent of sending 10,000 soldiers to Catalonia. If he had accepted, the events would probably have been tragic and would have triggered an armed conflict in the [Spanish] state with an unknown number of fatalities."
All this emerges, says the document, from a conversation between two former officials of Catalan pro-independence parties: Víctor Terradellas, of the CDC party, and Xavier Vendrell, a former ERC politician (who was arrested by the Civil Guard this morning). The investigators say, "there is no reason to doubt the legitimacy and authenticity [of the conversation] since at least part of the information refers to events that did end up occurring later".
"He shit his pants"
The court's text, which provides this conversation as a "key evidence of an offence", explains that on October 24th, 2017, the head of a Russian group created during the Gorbachev era to develop a cryptocurrency platform made the offer to then-president Carles Puigdemont of "making available 10,000 soldiers and paying all of Catalonia's debt". “But the president shit his pants,” reads the text, allegedly quoting the words of Terradellas.
In response to this revelation, says the document, Vendrell expressed concern that he was under surveillance by the Spanish intelligence services and "wanted to ensure maximum security so that the contact with Russia did not leak out."
In the interlocutory, the Catalan businessperson Oriol Soler is also linked to this operation with the Russian government. The investigation asserts that a meeting Soler held in November 2017 with Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London took place in the context of "the strategy of disinformation and destabilization in which the Kremlin government also participated, as part of its general narrative of a European Union on the brink of collapse".
According to the investigators, Kremlin-controlled media such as Russia Today and Sputnik are also involved in this alleged conspiracy, with Sputnik editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonyan, being "close" to Vladimir Putin as well as being an editor of Assange and Eduard Snowden. And Assange was also involved in the plot, according to the Civil Guard, as evidenced by his tweets in support of the Catalan independence process.
Putin and Trump
The document mentions Terradellas's and Soler's trips to Russia - both to the country in general, and, in some cases, referring specifically to St Petersburg, where Vendrell also offered to go, but ultimately couldn't, because Terradellas ended up being arrested - and drops names like that of the current Chief of Staff of the Russian armed forces, general Valery Gerasimov, defender of the "information war" and Kremlin adviser Sergei Markov, with whom Puigdemont had supposedly made contact with respect to the recognition of Crimea.
In fact, in the text, which at times reads like a twisted spy novel, the names of Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump also appear. The first because he was referenced due to his destabilization campaigns involving Assange, who was visited by Soler and also sent tweets in support of the process. The second, because the destabilization campaigns promoted by Russia also included, according to the Civil Guard, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.
To win over followers
The conclusion of this conspiratorial account is that "it seems clear that, in reality, Russian interference as part of a geopolitical strategy of destabilization was a fact during the autumn of 2017, and therefore, misinformation and fake news [about Spain] was spread, such as 'that the worst violence in Europe since World War II had been experienced' or that 'Spain did not respect basic voting rights'."
This point is especially stressed as significant, since the [pro-independence] communication strategy is, according to the thesis of another independence process trial - that of Barcelona court number 13 - "a key tool for achieving the objectives they pursue, especially for winning over followers to the pro-independence cause". Nevetheless, the court's text does admit that this is a "legitimate" cause, but then points out immediately that it has led the accused to "divert public funds to profit blatantly in an irregular way at [public] expense."
"Information should be verified"
After reviewing the activities of Oriol Soler as a communications entrepreneur, his visits to Russia and contacts with Assange, the interlocutory reaches the conclusion which is the basis for the Civil Guard operation: the businessperson is the architect "of campaigns in favour of the independence of Catalonia". The text adds the nuance that he took part in this "freely exercising his rights to freedom of expression and press", but adds immediately that Soler's relations with the Catalan government were formalised in public contracts and, especially, through subsidies.
The report states that, between 2016 and 2020, Oriol Soler's companies - Editorial Alpha, Ara Llibres, Som and Batabat - received 3 million euros from public contracts and subsidies, according to the public register, although it points out that "this information should be verified as correct with the corresponding administrative files."