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In the midst of an arrest operation on Wednesday of 21 people for alleged misuse of public funds to assist the Catalan independence movement, the Spanish State issued a statement alleging that Russia had offered the movement 10,000 Russian soldiers to aid their struggle. It wasn’t the only Russian connection to the Spanish police operation, which they had named Operación Volkhov.
The arrests this week form part of measures by the State against Catalan independence activists since 2017. That year, a coalition of pro-independence political parties and a huge grassroots movement in Catalonia pushed for a referendum to vote for or against an independent Catalan republic, which the pro-Spanish union opposition called on people to boycott. The Spanish State sent its police to raid Catalan regional government offices, confiscate ballot papers, search for ballot boxes (unsuccessfully) and, on the day of the Referendum itself on October 1st, to storm polling stations and beat up voters.
Since then, the Spanish State has jailed seven Catalan politicians and two leaders of grassroots movements on charges of sedition, charged senior Catalan police officers with disobedience (recently acquitted), charged activists with possession of explosives (turned out to be fireworks), other Catalan politicians – including the former President — are in exile, the current President of the regional government has been banned from holding office, 700 local town mayors are under investigation and others are facing charges arising out of strikes and acts of civil disobedience such as blocking streets and a motorway (for which one activist was charged with terrorism). The raid this week comes in addition to all those legal processes.
There is something of an irony in charging Catalan activists with misuse of public funds in pursuance of independence, given that independence is what many of the Catalan public desire but even more ironic considering the rampant corruption endemic in Spanish political circles and the Monarchy itself, the former King Juan Carlos resigning amidst allegations of financial corruption and being allowed to flee the country ahead of an investigation.
Whatever about the charges of misuse of public funds it is unlikely that most political observers will take the allegations of an offer of Russian military intervention seriously and not only because it comes from Guardia Civil intelligence, a police force maintaining the fascist Franco dictatorship for four decades and, according to many, especially Basques and Catalans, not much changed since. The notion that Russia would risk a war with the EU and the US-dominated NATO, in order to help free a nation of 7.5 million people nowhere near its own territory, must be laughable.
For those facing charges, under investigation, in exile or already in jail, the situation is not humorous. And then there is the sinister name of the police operation. During WW2, General Franco, dictator of a neutral Spain sent fascist volunteers to aid the Axis in Europe, many of them fighting on the Russian front. Franco had quite recently led a successful military-fascist uprising against the Spanish left-wing Popular Front Government, for which he had been aided by Nazi German and Fascist Italian armament and men. His victory was followed by a repression that left Spain with more mass graves than anywhere else other than Cambodia. The Spanish volunteers to fight Soviet communism formed the Blue Division – blue, from the colour of the Falangist shirts and uniforms.
SPANISH FASCISTS ON THE VOLKHOV FRONT
Among the Nazi German forces in the Volkhov region were the men of the Blue Division and it seems they carried out a successful night crossing of the Volkhov River on 18th October 1941. A subsequent Red Army advance in January 1942 failed ultimately because not all the components of the operation had advanced according to plan. In August 1942 the Blue Division was transferred north to take part in the Siege of Leningrad, on the south-eastern flank of the German Army.
However in February of that 1943, operations on the Volkhov Front formed Part of the Red Army plan to first break the siege of Leningrad and then trap Nazi forces in encirclement. According to what seems a Spanish-sympathetic Wikipedia account of the battle at Krasny Bor, in the vicinity of Volkov, the Blue Division fought stubbornly from 10-13 February 1943. On February 15, the Blue Division reported casualties of 3,645 killed or wounded and 300 missing or taken prisoner, which amounted to a 70–75% casualty rate of the troops engaged in the battle. The remnants were relieved and moved back towards the rear.
Red Army casualties were much higher and, although forces attacking well-fortified positions backed by good artillery and tanks, all of which the Nazis had, can expect to lose three attackers for every one defender, Russian analysis later blamed bad leadership, ineffective use of artillery and clumsy use of tanks for their losses.
A Spanish police force evoking today the memory of Spain’s fascist troops in WW2 might seem ominous but to those who believe that the Spanish ruling class and their police force have never ceased to be fascist, the only surprise will be its effrontery. To the Guardia Civil, the fighting in the vicinity of Volkhov in October 1941 might seem the finest hour of the Blue Division but they might do well to remember that effectively it also met its end there in 1943: the Division ceased to exist and was reformed as the Blue Legion, soon afterwards to be disbanded, some soldiers absorbed into the Waffen SS and others withdrawn home.
RUSSIAN TROOPS FOR CATALONIA?
Fast forwarding to the present, the Russians, at least in their Embassy in Madrid, treated the allegation of their offering troops to support Catalan independence as a joke. The following post in Spanish appeared on their electronic notice and comment board (translated):
Note: The information that appeared in the Spanish media about the arrival of 10,000 Russian soldiers in Catalonia is incomplete. It is necessary to add a further two zeros to the number of soldiers and the most shocking thing of all this conspiracy: the troops were to be transported by “Mosca” and “Chato” planes assembled in Catalonia during the Civil War and hidden in a safe place in the Catalan Sierra (mountain range) until they received the encrypted order to act through these publications.
Police operation name, raid and arrests: https://english.vilaweb.cat/noticies/spains-paramilitary-police-names-newest-raid-after-ww2-fascist-victory/
History of the Volkhov Front, WW2: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volkhov_Front
Battle of Krasny Bor: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Krasny_Bor#Soviet_Union_–_Leningrad_Front
Russian Embassy humorous comment: https://spain.mid.ru/es_ES/-/replica-de-la-embajada-sobre-la-informacion-aparecida-en-los-medios-espanoles-sobre-la-llegada-de-10-mil-soldados-rusos-a-cataluna?redirect=https%3A//spain.mid.ru/