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Spain warns EU about cyber-meddling suspicions in Catalonia

A man walks through the Parliament of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain, Monday. Picture by Manu Fernandez, Associated Press
Lorne Cook, Press Association

Spain has warned its European Union partners about a disinformation campaign which it claims is aimed at destabilising its volatile region of Catalonia and appears to be coming from Russia.

Spanish defence minister Maria Dolores de Cospedal told reporters that "many of the actions come from Russian territory" but that it is not yet possible to determine what their exact source is or if the Russian government is involved.

She said some of them are "repeated from Venezuelan territory".

The Spanish government took control of Catalonia's powers and called a snap regional election for December 21, after the Catalan government held a banned independence referendum on October 1.

Several regional government ministers have been jailed, and the region's ousted leader Carles Puigdemont is in Brussels with four associates fighting extradition to Spain for trial.

They could face up to 30 years in prison on charges of rebellion, sedition and extortion.

Ms De Cospedal declined to guess what impact the disinformation might be having on the election campaign or how big the alleged fake news campaign might be.

She said the number "is changing every day". "The figure cannot be specified," she said.

Earlier, referring to a recent London meeting between WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and a prominent Catalan pro-independence figure, Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said there were signs that Mr Assange and others "are trying to interfere and manipulate" amid the Catalonia crisis.

Spain said last week that the signs do not necessarily mean the Russian government is involved, and it has not made public any evidence to back the interference claim.

The EU's strategic communications unit – the East StratCom Task Force – has recently reported several instances of disinformation coming from Russian news outlets linked to the Kremlin.

An analysis last month on the Russian talk show Vesti Nedeli said that the view from some Russian television stations is that Europe is "falling apart" and that Spain is being compared to Ukraine, whose Crimean Peninsula was annexed by Russian troops in 2014.

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