Isambard Wilkinson, Madrid

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4 de septiembre de 2021 01:01
© Times Newspapers Limited 2021

A Catalan separatist leader’s aide approached Russia for help with efforts to break away from Spain, according to an intelligence report.

During visits to Moscow in 2019 Josep Lluís Alay, a senior adviser to Carles Puigdemont, the self-exiled former Catalan regional head, met Russian officials and former intelligence officers to seek assistance for the separatist cause, the report by a European state said.

It did not conclude what help, if any, the Kremlin provided. However, according to The New York Times, which said it had seen the report but did not disclose which country had produced it, the Russian officials whom Alay met were involved in Moscow’s operations to destabilise the West.

The visits took place two years after the Catalan regional government’s failed bid for independence, when it held an illegal referendum on seceding from Spain. Nine of their leaders, but not Puigdemont, who had fled into exile in Belgium, were being held in jail at the time and on trial for sedition. They were later convicted then pardoned this year by the Socialist government of Pedro Sánchez, the prime minister.

Alay and Puigdemont confirmed the trips to Moscow but said they were for routine meetings with foreign officials and journalists. Alay said the report was “a fantasy story created by Madrid”.

Catalan separatist leaders have accused Spanish officials of using allegations of Russian interference to undermine their movement. Shortly after Alay’s Moscow visits the secretive group Tsunami Democràtic organised protests in Catalonia that disrupted Barcelona’s airport and cut off a road linking Spain to northern Europe.

The newspaper cited a Spanish police report that found Alay had been involved in establishing the protest group. He denies the claim.

The newspaper said that three days after the airport was occupied, two Russians flew from Moscow to the Catalan capital, where they met Alay. They were Sergei Sumin, whom the intelligence report describes as a colonel in Russia’s Federal Protective Service, which oversees security for President Putin, and Artyom Lukoyanov, the adopted son of a top adviser to Putin, who was involved in Russia’s efforts to support separatists in eastern Ukraine. Alay said the meeting was only to greet them.

The June 2020 intelligence report alleged that Alay, with Alexander Dmitrenko, a Russian businessman, sought Russia’s assistance to create banking, telecommunications and energy sectors separate from Spain.

It also claimed that Gonzalo Boye, Puigdemont’s lawyer, consulted with Vasily Khristoforov, a leader of a Russian criminal syndicate, as part of an effort to set up a secret money pipeline. Boye said they discussed only matters relating to legal cases against the Russian in Spain.

Rumours of Russian involvement in Catalonia first emerged soon after the referendum in 2017. Russia has not commented on the latest report.