If there is anyone in the European Parliament who knows about independence and Russian interference, it is Sandra Kalniete, vice president of the European People’s Party since 2014. She was born in 1952 in a Siberian gulag, to where her parents were taken as slaves. She did not see her country, Latvia, until she was seven years old. Her adult life under Soviet terror made her an activist for the Latvian sovereignty movement, which won freedom for its country in 1991. Today, she has two very clear messages for Spain: the Russian threat is real and must be taken seriously, and any comparison between Catalonia and the Baltic republics is fiction and an offense to the memory of the victims of communism.
Question. What interest could Russia have in the crisis in Catalonia?
Answer. Spain is one of the most important member states of the European Union, and the EU is already going through the Brexit crisis. It could be good for Russia to have another crisis to further the regionalization of Europe. There are nationalism problems in Belgium and in other countries, such as Italy. The EU would be so consumed by its own problems that our security and foreign policy would lack impact globally.
Q. What can Spanish politicians do to contain this threat?
A. First of all, do not waste time debating because we are facing a completely new, digital world, which requires new international instruments to manage it. For the time being, we are defenseless in the face of these new technologies. They were meant to help humanity, but when they are in the hands of evil forces, they can cause damage.
Q. In theory technology is not bad, what is bad is how you use it, right?
A. As I said that’s why we need to have agreed-upon international rules, agreements and treaties, because this domain is extremely important.
Q. Russia is not trying to hide any of their campaigns. Why do you think they interfere so openly?
A. I’m convinced that Russia does it on purpose to show that they are very strong and can intervene and meddle in the internal affairs of every country, to pursue their goals and no one can do anything to stop them. For Russia, it’s not important to be the best economically or socially, what’s important is that other countries are afraid of them. For centuries, Russian politics has pushed the perception of the greatness of their country.
Q. Is Russia interested in weakening Western democracy?
A. Certainly because if democracies are united they can make a united front against the attempts to penetrate and weaken them. From an economic point of view, the EU is powerful; we continue to be one of the most important economical players globally. Russia is weak because its economy is based on a Third World structure, which is dependent on primary materials and not on advanced technologies. They are interested in benefiting from that weakness.
Q. So this is a detailed strategy, with clear objectives?
A. I believe that they have a very detailed and elaborate strategy to weaken European unity because it’s easier to face a fragmented EU, which already differs on basic, fundamental issues. The danger is the brainwashing of European minds saying that our values aren’t actually values, that most Europeans are hypocrites and that European politicians have double standards. They make comparisons between Crimea, Kosovo and Catalonia. They are very skilled in this sort of deviation.
Q. What would you say to those people who believe the Russian threat is science fiction or alarmist exaggerations?
A. People have to realize the extreme change that we are living through. Looking back at history, the magnitude of this change is of the same scale as the industrial revolution. We are living in digital revolution. Ideas that were far-fetched until now are becoming realities. In the virtual world, we have instant connections and a virtual economy. The direct threats that the Baltic states are receiving, as they are Russia’s neighbors, are not any more important than those received by Spain, which is separated by many mountains. In the digital world, mountains don’t play a defensive role anymore.
Q. Many pro-independence people have described the situation in Catalonia as similar to the Baltic republics before the crumbling of the USSR. What do you have to say about that?
A. I have a very simple answer to that. The Baltic States were occupied by a bloody, totalitarian regime. Spain is a democratic country with a Constitution and Catalonia has autonomy. In a democratic country, any political problem could be resolved with dialogue and negotiations, within the framework of the law. Laws can also be changed through negotiations, because in democratic societies we have outlined ways to do so. In the Baltic states, under a totalitarian regime you have no political options. You had to fight for your liberty.