Putin encourages independence movement via envoy to Catalonia

Dimitri Medoyev, from South Ossetia, arrives in Barcelona for meetings with business figures

Russian President Vladimir Putin, pictured this week in the Kremlin.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, pictured this week in the Kremlin.Mikhail Svetlov (Getty Images)

A politician from South Ossetia known for his political affinities with Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Barcelona this week, with the goal of establishing ties between Kremlin circles and a hypothetical independent Catalonia, according to Spanish intelligence sources.

Dimitri Medoyev, the de facto foreign minister for the partially recognized republic of South Ossetia, was on an official visit in Catalonia on Monday and Tuesday. During this time he met with business leaders and opened an office “to promote bilateral relations on humanitarian and cultural issues,” according to reports in Russian public news organizations such as Sputnik.

During his visit, Medoyev drew parallels between Catalonia and theoretically independent republics such as South Ossetia and Abkhazia

South Ossetia, with a population of 53,000, declared independence from Georgia in 1991, and in practice it is considered to have been annexed by Russia. A quarter of a century later, it has only been recognized as an independent state by a handful of countries such as Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Russia.

During his visit, Medoyev drew parallels between Catalonia and pro-Russian, theoretically independent republics such as South Ossetia and Abkhazia (population 240,000).

“Twenty-six years ago, the people of South Ossetia took the same decisive political steps on the road to creating their own state,” said Medoyev, according to Russian news organizations.

In 2014, Russia and Abkhazia signed a cooperation agreement to create joint military and police groups. According to Georgian government estimates, Moscow has 10,000 soldiers spread out in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Before visiting Catalonia, Medoyev stopped in the Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto just as they were holding referendums to ask Rome for greater autonomy. While he was there, Medoyev met with local and regional leaders.

Medoyev stopped in the Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto just as they were holding referendums

Neither the Catalan government nor separatist authorities in South Ossetia would comment on whether Medoyev met with high-ranking Catalan officials or lawmakers during his Barcelona stay.

On September 25, before Catalonia held an independence referendum outlawed by the Constitutional Court, separatist authorities in South Ossetia issued a release asking for respect “for the right to sovereignty of the citizens of Catalonia.” This statement warned that “repression and double standards are unacceptable.”

Russia supported Georgia’s breakup when the country of 3.7 million people made overtures to the West. And in 2014, when Ukraine deposed its pro-Russian leaders, Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula.

Digital warfare

In recent years, Russia has invested significant resources on propaganda news outlets such as RT and Sputnik, and embarked on a full-blown digital warfare campaign on social media, encouraging divisions during the US presidential race last year, and in France and Germany’s own election runs this year.

As reported by EL PAÍS, pro-Russian profiles with great social media following have routinely shared information favoring Catalan independence in recent weeks. In some cases, these profiles have amplified fake or manipulated news items.

Together with regular issues such as Ukraine, Donald Trump and Syria, since September these profiles have been frequently covering Catalonia and anything to do with its independence bid, according to digital measurement tools used by the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a project launched by the German Marshall Fund after US intelligence agencies began investigating Russia’s influence on Trump’s election victory.

The only thing to emerge from Medoyev’s visit to Catalonia is that he met with Russian and Ossetian business figures and launched an “embassy” of sorts to encourage bilateral relations. The current president of South Ossetia, Anatoly Bibilov, has repeatedly said that his government is considering joining the federation of Russia and Belarus, a move that many see as an annexation with similar effects to the Crimean annexation.

Double diplomatic game in Russia

Although Russian diplomacy has maintained in public that it considers the Catalan crisis strictly an internal affair, the Russian president has been far more critical. Vladimir Putin has accused Europe of thoughtlessly and unreservedly encouraging Kosovo’s secession, thus triggering similar processes in other regions.

For Putin, who made this statement at a political forum in the Russian city of Sochi last week, Kosovo was the Pandora's box that led to subsequent problems. "The situation in Spain clearly shows how fragile stability can be even in a prosperous and established state," said Putin at the Valdai International Discussion Club.

“I cannot help but note that more thought should have gone into this earlier. What, no one was aware of these centuries-old disagreements in Europe? They were, were they not? Of course, they were. However, at one point they actually welcomed the disintegration of a number of states in Europe without hiding their joy,” added Putin. In reality, Spain has to date not recognized Kosovo as an independent state.

English version by Susana Urra.


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