Madrid, Spain—Spanish government officials believe that Russia interfered in the Catalan referendum.

Spanish Defence Minister Maria Dolores de Cospedal and Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis accused Russian-based groups of using social media to influence public opinion and raise support for the Catalan separatists.

“These are groups that, public and private, are trying to influence the situation and create instability in Europe. What we know today is that much of this came from Russian territory,” said de Cospedal.

Spanish officials also suspect Venezuelan-based groups.  According to Dastis, 30% of the false social media accounts were traced to Venezuela, the rest to Russia.

“Yes, we have proof,” said Dastis when asked about how certain the Spanish Government is of the locations.

The Oct. 1st referendum opened the floodgates of political controversy.  Since then, the Catalan government unilaterally declared independence and the Spanish government responded by suspending Catalan autonomy and imposing direct rule.  Former members of the Catalan government are facing charges of rebellion, sedition, and misuse of public funds.  Sacked Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has fled to Brussels.  Regional elections to decide the region’s future will be held on December 21st.

Catalan separatists declined that Russian meddling helped their cause.

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Europe’s elections have been plagued by Russian interference.  The French and German governments had publicly warned Russia not to interfere in their respective general elections.  And this week, British Prime Minister Theresa May openly accused Russia of interfering in the BREXIT vote.

But what does Russia hope to gain by intruding in European affairs?

Fracture.

Divided adversaries are easier to deal with.  Russia is suffocating under U.S. and EU sanctions.  But sanctions also hurt business.  Many Europeans see them as unproductive and irrelevant to Europe’s interests.  Within different European nations, there are potent groups that actively seek to end them.

And the political groups that benefit, at least on the surface, by Russian intervention don’t necessarily know what’s going on.   Amidst the whirlwind of trying to win an election or arranging an independence referendum, receiving a helping hand by a shadowy website here or by a Twitter post there doesn’t hurt and doesn’t raise many eyebrows.