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A collaborator of the former president of the Catalan Generalitat Carles Puigdemont sought support from Russia to achieve the separation of Catalonia from the rest of Spain, according to an investigation published Friday by The New York Times.

The Times cites as sources a European intelligence report corroborated by Spanish officials; files from two investigations by judges in Barcelona and Madrid; interviews with pro-independence politicians and activists in Catalonia; and security officials in Spain and abroad.

The newspaper notes that a top adviser to Puigdemont, Josep Lluis Alay, met in Moscow with Russian officials, former intelligence agents and the grandson of a KGB spy with the aim of “securing Russian help” in the independence struggle, according to the contents of the European report, dated June 2020, at the height of the escalation of the independence process that would end on October 1, 2021 with an illegal referendum and a unilateral declaration of independence.

The Times report does not clarify what kind of help the Kremlin has given the Catalan separatists or whether it has provided them with any support, but notes that following Alay’s trips to Moscow, which took place in 2019, the protest group Tsunami Democràtic emerged.

A confidential Spanish Civil Guard report obtained by the newspaper claims Alay was involved in the creation of that agitation group, which disrupted Barcelona airport operations and blocked a highway, but Puigdemont’s emissary has denied any links.

Confirmed trips

Asked about the European report, Alay and Puigdemont have confirmed those trips to Moscow that had so far not transpired, but have attributed them to a regular effort to liaise with foreign officials and journalists.

According to the documents obtained by the New York newspaper, for Russia the link with the separatists was in line with President Vladimir Putin’s strategy to “try to promote disruption in the West by supporting divisive political movements,” including far-right parties in Spain.

Many of the officials Alay met in Moscow are involved in a “hybrid Kremlin war against the West” that employs “propaganda, disinformation, secret funding, destabilizing political movements, cyberattacks and information leaks” to “erode” the Russian government’s opponents, the paper said.

Among the details of the European document is disclosed that Alay sought “technical and financial assistance from Russia” along with businessman Alexander Dmitrenko – who is married to a Catalan woman – “for the creation of banking, energy and telecommunications sectors separate from Spain”.

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Alay and Dmitrenko, along with Puigdemont’s lawyer Gonzalo Boye, also allegedly consulted a leader of a violent Russian criminal group in an “attempt to establish a secret money conduit to fund their activities.”

In addition, an extensive secret transcript of text messages included in one of the files of inquiries conducted by magistrates and reviewed by the Times shows “the coordinated effort by Alay and others in Puigdemont’s circle to cultivate ties to Russians linked to the country’s intelligence community,” the release said.

Those messages, taken from Alay’s phone late last year after a brief arrest, mention that two of his main contacts in Russia were a married couple of intelligence agents whose story helped inspire “The Americans,” a TV show about KGB officers working undercover in the U.S.

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Asked about the alleged Russian rapprochement, the Govern led by Pere Aragonès distanced himself from Puigdemont and assured that those trips to Moscow “were not made on behalf of the Catalan government and were carried out without the knowledge” of the current president of the autonomous community.

“These people are not even part of the president’s party, which has no knowledge of the agendas of other parties,” added Aragonès’ spokesman, Sergi Sabrià. (I)