By Walid & Theodore Shoebat
The Spanish government has been recently investigating the activities of Denis Sergeev, a Russian spy and intelligence agent, and his alleged involvement in the rebellious Catalonian election of 2017 in which Catalans voted to secede from Madrid. They say that Sergeev is a member of “Unit 29155” which consists mainly of veterans of Russia’s bloodiest wars, including in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Ukraine.
One retired G.R.U. officer with knowledge of Unit 29155 who spoke anonymously said that the unit was efficient in preparing for “diversionary” missions, “in groups or individually — bombings, murders, anything.” “They were serious guys who served there,” explained the retired officer. “They were officers who worked undercover and as international agents.”
Sergeev went by the alias, Sergey Fedotov and according to the Passenger Name Record (PNR) database, which is used by airlines to document all of their travelers, he took two trips to Spain. In the first trip, Sergeev was in Madrid on November 5, 2016 and stayed there for six days before returning to Moscow through Zurich. Sergeev’s second trip was on September 29, 2017, only two days before the Catalan separatist referendum which occurred on October 1st. This time he stayed in Spain until October 9th and then returned to Moscow through Geneva. There is no known documentation about further trips. This information has been discovered in the investigation opened by High Court Judge Manuel García-Castellón and which is currently sealed but has been revealed by El Pais. The inquiry into Sergeev’s activities is being conducted by the National Police force’s General Information Office.
Currently the Spanish investigation cannot emphatically confirm that Russian intelligence collaborated with Catalan separatists. But what can be confirmed is how Russian media outlets published articles that were sympathetic towards the separatist cause. They even compared the Catalonian situation to Crimea where many people preferred Russian over Ukrainian rule, and comparing it to how Catalonia does not want to be ruled by Spain. For example, the Russian newspaper Vzglyad, put out an article on September of 2017 with the headline “Spain forcibly suppresses the Catalan spring,” words that denote that Spain is despotic towards the Catalan suffrage and that there is a “Catalan spring” which reminds one of the Arab Spring, conveying the message that there is a Catalonian revolution. The article even goes so far as to affirm that the cause of Crimea has expanded up to Catalonia: “the Crimean spring has moved to the Pyrenees.” Its as if to say that, in turn, the Russian cause of empire has also expanded to the Western Europe.
Vzglyad has a dark history. It was founded by Russian troll and politician, Konstantin Rykov who also went by his internet pseudonym, “Jason Foris.” His snide, trolling and attention grabbing ways earned him millions as an internet entrepreneur and even got him elected into the Russian Parliament. Rykov spent years on the internet as a troll, and would eventually land himself in a position to help put Russia in the battlefield of the trolling world online. Rykov created accounts on Russian social media sites like Vkontakte (VK), Live Journal, and Odnoklassniki, where he accrued large followings by sharing pictures of scantily clad women, telling crude jokes and spreading a satiric, nihilistic brand of humor. He eventually got a position with Russia’s state-owned Channel 1 as the head of its internet department. 2005 would be the year that Rykov would create the online publication, Vzglyad, which would eventually become a mouthpiece for the Kremlin. In fact, President Vladimir Putin’s former deputy chief of staff, Vladislav Surkov, had direct ties to Vzglyad’s editorial department and determined what they published.
Alexander Shmelev, who served as Vzglyad’s editor-in-chief in 2007 and 2008, recounted the type of control the Russian government had on the paper’s articles:
“There were weekly meetings at the presidential administration … Sometimes, there were situations when we published something, and Surkov’s assistant who was in charge of the media, Alexey Chesnakov, called and said, ‘No, please, replace this article,’ or, ‘Please, publish something about this issue.’”
Shmelev, exasperated over how much control the state had over the publication, left Vzgylad. In 2008, when Russia invaded Georgia, the general consensus in online media was that Russia was the aggressor and the antagonist. This pushed Russia to shift its gears from just being focused on television and newspapers to the internet. Russia had to adapt to the world of internet propaganda. Shmelev explained:
“It was discussed that we lost the information war — that on the internet, everyone around the world believes that Russia suddenly attacked Georgia, and the topic of Georgia attacking South Ossetia is never mentioned and that we came to protect it … We need to change this somehow, we need to learn to be proactive, we need to learn to work not only in the Russian segment of the internet but in the internet in general.”
Through Vladislav Surkov, Putin’s administration began signaling to Konstantin Rykov that they were interested in his skills as a troll. As we read from Molly Schwartz:
“In 2007, Surkov organized private fundraisers for Rykov’s ventures. Rykov was elected to the Russian Parliament in 2008 as a member of the United Russia party, the same party as Putin. Rykov was only 28-years-old.
In return, Rykov developed tactics to help the Kremlin boost support for its image online. Shmelev says that he attracted a new community of supporters for the government by advertising pro-Kremlin articles on sites like Mail.ru, porn websites and humor websites. Rykov showed the Kremlin how to spread competing narratives on social media to deflect attention away from reporting that was critical of their activities.”
Rykov’s Vzglyad site became, and still is a, a means to spreading propaganda and information that Russia wants inculcated online, nationalist and anti-European Union sentiment.
On September 8th of 2017, Vzglyad published another article stating: “Catalan politicians are already discussing what they’ll do after proclaiming independence. One of them told Vzglyad that Catalonia will seek recognition for Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” two regions that Russia recognized as autonomous and independent from Georgia in 2008. This one politician was J. Enric Folch Vila of the obscure Catalan separatist party, Solidaritat Catalana. In September of 2016, Folch attended a conference in Moscow funded by the Russian government and organized by the Russian Anti-Globalization Movement (MAR). “We were invited by the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia, because the reason for the meeting was to meet other nations without a State or that seek to achieve independence. Basically, the objective was to contact other nations or countries that are in these processes, and make a change of impressions,” explained Folch. According to the president of the Anti-Globalization Movement, Alexander Ivanov, about 30% of the group’s general budget come from the Russian government. They have also received separatists from Northern Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Catalonia, and the Basque country. One thing that is fascinating about this group is how its name “anti-globalism” echoes the rhetoric of those on the Alt-Right, that is, that they are against “globalism,” which simply means, amongst other things, that they are against immigration and want to create a fixation on national pride and tribalism.
This tribalism can be seen in Folch who has called for open rebellion against Madrid and says that the days of reasoning with Spain are over, exlaiming : “We will follow our own law, our own institutions, our own Catalan Republic”.
In 2017, Pravda, the official newspaper for the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, put out an article that said: “if Catalans hold the referendum and unilaterally declare independence, there will be a precedent for the EU similar to Crimea.” This article was shared by two Twitter accounts owned by Pravda, @pravda.ru and @pravdaonline, both of which have over a quarter of a million followers. Another Twitter account that advances the pro-Russian view, while at the same time disseminating propaganda for European nationalist parties (like the AfD), is Voice of Europe , which has over a quarter of a million followers. This page has retweeted posts sympathetic to the Catalan cause and with sensational titles like: “Spain BOILS: EU REFUSES to act for Catalonia despite Spain ‘violating basic human rights,’” or “Spain in CRISIS: Troops sent in as 40,000 protest over ‘WAR’ on Catalan independence vote.”
The Spanish Twitter account for RT (the most popular media voice for the Russian government), RT en Espanol which has over three million followers, and its Facebook page (currently over seven million followers) has posted stories with titles like “Catalonia: the dictator Francisco Franco has returned victoriously.” This last line on Franco implies that Spain, because she has suppressed the Catalan separatist movement, is like her past “dictator,” Francisco Franco.
The agenda of these media publications is to rile up the separatist side to vote in favor for their cause. Spain’s Defence Minister Maria Dolores de Cospedal, said back in 2017:
“What we know today is that much of this came from Russian territory … These are groups that, public and private, are trying to influence the situation and create instability in Europe”
When Spain’s Foreign Minister, Alfonso Dastis, was asked if he is emphatically sure of Russian meddling, he responded: “Yes, we have proof.” According to Dastis, a Spanish investigation confirmed a plethora of fake accounts on social media expressing support for Catalan separatism. These accounts were traced back to Russia and another 30% of them to Venezuela.
It makes sense as to why Russia would have an interest in Catalan nationalism, just like it makes sense that they would have an interest in nationalist parties like the AfD in Germany. By splitting up Spain, several things happen: firstly, it would destroy the European Union as we know it today, and secondly it would give the pretext to Germany to reinstate herself as the military ruler of Europe.
Germany is currently the economic controller of her continent, but she is still under American eyes when it comes to military defense. If Catalonia splits from Spain, it would trigger a continental emergency that Germany would then use to justify a return to militarism in the name of ‘European unity.’ Lets remember that Nazi Germany’s warpath did not begin in Poland nor Czechoslovakia, but in Spain, when the Spanish Civil War broke out after Franco and soldiers loyal to him overthrew the Left-wing government of Manuel Azana. Hitler used the conflict as an excuse to send in the German military to fight off the Left-wing forces that were combating the nationalists who would be on the side of Franco.
Hitler and Mussolini sent over 90,000 troops into Spain to back the Spanish nationalists (Ganser, NATO’s Secret Armies, ch. 8, p. 104) During the Spanish Civil War, the Soviet Union supplied the Spanish Left-wing fighters with weapons and training. It was a proxy war between Germany and Russia for power and influence over Europe. Hitler helped Franco’s regime, not because he really sympathized with Catholics who were being butchered by the anarchists and Republicans (Hitler butchered millions of Catholic Poles), rather he did so because he wanted to expand Germany’s geopolitical leverage, hence why Franco sent the Spanish military’s Blue Division to the Russian front to fight alongside the Wehrmacht (Ibid). Stalin backed the Popular Front government which was a coalition of Left-wing parties such as the Spanish Communist Party and the PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero Español or the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party). What is very interesting is that the PSOE, through Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, is the very party that today authorized the removal of Franco’s remains from the Valley of the Fallen mausoleum, an action which has angered the Right-wing but has pleased the Left. As we read from Time Magazine:
“While few defend the human rights abuses under Franco’s regime, many have argued that moving his remains serves little purpose and that his family should decide where he rests. “Sanchez has spent a year playing with [Franco’s bones] to try to divide us into reds and blues, but at this point this no longer matters to many Spaniards,” Alberto Rivera, leader of the centre-right Citizens, tweeted after the ruling.
Santiago Abascal, the leader of Spain’s far-right party Vox, which in 2018 became the first far-right political force to win seats in national elections since Franco’s death, attacked the exhumation as “profaning tombs and digging up hatreds”.”
While the Left in Spain is becoming more aggressive, with Catalonian Leftists working for separatism and the Socialists removing Franco’s remains, the Right-wing in Spain is also rising, and this is indicated in the fact that Vox — a nationalist and Right-wing party — went from being an obscure party to one that has 52 seats in the parliament (out of 350 seats), the first time a Ring-wing party won more than one seat since Spain returned to democracy in the 1970s. With the intensification of the Right-Left rift in Spain, its as if a strategy of tension is being done to cause all of this.
Vox in fact received a substantial amount of cash from the People’s Mujahideen of Iran (the MEK) which, until recently, was classified as a terrorist organization but nonetheless has been getting American backing thanks to people like Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton and Newt Gingrich. With such high level Republicans backing the MEK, it is fitting to quote Dina Esfandiary who wrote that the Trump administration “provides a platform to groups like the Mujahideen-e Khalq, an exiled Iranian resistance group once listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. government”. In April of 2019, documents leaked to El Pais revealed that between its founding in December 2013 and the European Parliament elections in May 2014, Vox received almost a million euros from the MEK’s front group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). It was not as though the financial relationship between Vox and the NCRI began gradually, but right when Vox was founded. Joaquín Gil, a journalist with El Pais, explained: “From the day it was founded in December 2013—the same day that it registered as a political party with the Spanish Ministry of Interior—Vox started to receive Iranian funds”. These funds came from different countries including the United States, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, and Italy in amounts ranging from 60 to 35,000 euros, totaling almost 972,000 euros, from December 2013 to April 2014, right before the 2014 elections. According to Gill, Alejo Vidal-Quadras Roca, who was a leading member of Vox, “asked his friends at NCRI … to instruct its followers to make a series of money transfers.”
Vidal-Quadras has confirmed that the NCRI organized the international fundraising campaign for Vox and the group was willing to discuss the matter with Spanish journalists. “We knew that it was a new party, but not a far-right one,” a spokesperson for the NCRI told El País. In fact, Vidal-Quadras admitted that the NCRI organized the international fundraising campaign for Vox. “We knew that it was a new party, but not a far-right one,” a spokesperson for the NCRI told El País. Its difficult to believe the NCRI when it was obvious from the beginning that Vox had nationalist beliefs. The main question is: what interest does an Iranian lobbyist group have with Spanish nationalists? The NCRI is backed by influential American political agents like Giuliani and Bolton. Thus it would not be shocking if it is indeed the US government backing Vox through a third party, and that the support for Vox and Catalonian nationalists by international players like Russia and the US is simply a strategy of tension to get the whole of Europe to implode.
Is it possible that the removal of Franco’s remains is really part of a strategy of tension to get the Right and Left to eventually implode in violent war within Spain? It would not be surprising, given the fact that the Soviet Union backed the Left during the Spanish Civil War. It would not be to our shock if the US is also backing the Catalan cause, since even back in 1947, the OSS (the CIA’s precursor) armed Catalonian nationalists to overthrow Franco in what is known as Operation Banana.
It was a failed operation nonetheless, since not everyone in Washington or London agreed to topple Franco and some saw him as an asset. So the militants were arrested and the coup failed. Franco solidified his relationship with the US in 1953 after he made a deal with the Americans to allow missiles, soldiers and airplanes and Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) antennas in Spain. The United States backed the Spanish nationalists since the Franco regime was a true bulwark against Communism.
US intelligence collaborated with Spanish intelligence to combat Soviet influence; this was part of NATO’s Gladio operation. Andre Moyan, a leading Belgian counter-intelligence agent during the Cold War, said in an interview with the Communist newspaper, Drapeau Rouge, that Spain had played “a key role in the recruitment of Gladio agents” and that his first contacts with the Spanish Gladio network occurred in October of 1948 when “a cell of the network operated in Las Palmas” on the Spanish Canary Islands. Spain had become a center for Italian Right-wing radicals bent on overthrowing Italy’s government. For example, the Right-wing extremist, Marco Pozzan, a member of the terrorist organization, Ordine Nuovo, which was behind the massacre in the Piazza Fontana (in which 17 people were murdered) in 1969, revealed to judge Felice Casson in 1984 that there was a plethora of Italian fascists operating in Spain during the final years of Franco’s rule.
After Prince Valerio Borghese organized a failed neo-fascist coup against the Italian government on December 7th of 1970, 100 of the plotters fled to Spain. Borghese, as well as Carlo Ciuttini and Mario Ricce, regrouped in Spain under the command of the known neo-fascist terrorist, Stefano Della Chiaie. While in Spain, Chiaie was hired by the former Nazi, Otto Skorzeny (who was hired by the Spanish government as a security consultant) to target any enemies of Franco, especially anti-fascists. (Ganser, NATO’s Secret Armies, ch. 8, pp. 105-108)
If the United States was backing nationalists during the Cold War, and since the Cold War has never really ended, it would not be shocking that the US is still backing nationalists in Spain. NATO supported stay-behinds or Right-wing paramilitaries in Europe during the Gladio operation, and we know for a fact that the vice-president of Vox, Victor Gonzalez, has been involved in paramilitary training. In fact, we know this from our own personal conversion that we had with Gonzalez back in 2015.
We were in Madrid for a conference and Mr. Gonzalez, impressed by the subjects we delved in, sat by us to have a conversation on politics and religion. In the middle of the conversation, Gonzalez told us that he was a part of a secretive Catholic order that was involved in paramilitary training. He even said that he was jumping off of planes as part of the training. As he explained, this training was being done to prepare for a war with Muslims since, as he told us, “If we don’t fight them outside of Europe, then we will fight them in the streets.” He did not tell me the name of the order and when I requested an interview with him to discuss the paramilitary group he explained that he would first need permission from his superior. Weeks later we contacted Mr. Gonzalez and requested an interview to discuss his political ideology and paramilitary activity, but he declined. The fact that the vice-president of the biggest nationalist party in Spain has been, admittedly, involved in paramilitary training, should at least make us suspicious. Vox has been financed by the US-backed Iranian lobby, and its vice-president has been involved in paramilitary training. We wrote Gonzalez for this article but he declined to write us back. The apparatus has the trappings of a Gladio operation.
Russian outlets have been advancing the propaganda for Catalonian nationalism while backing other nationalisms like that of the German AfD, while at the same time the US government under the Trump administration has been pushing Germany to stop being independent on the US for its defense. Both of these actions are extremely dangerous. Russia wants to split the European Union, and if this occurs it will accelerate Germany to pursue militarist aims, since the a fragmented EU will be a national security disaster and will give Germany the opportunity to claim that allies no longer care about Europe and that European countries should follow Germany as the continent’s defender. In addition, with the US pushing for Germany to not be dependent on the US for defense spending, the Germans are taking this as a green light for German military independence. A Germany bent on military independence, alongside a fragmented Europe, will only spell disaster, and that is a revival of German military power. Russian trolling for anti-EU sentiment, and the US’ pushing for Germany to pay for her own defense, are ingredients for the recipe of Europe’s implosion.