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Spain

Spain

  • Spain is actively engaging in countering the Islamic state propaganda. The Russian Federation is higher on the Spanish security agenda due to Russian involvement in the Catalonian independence referendum. There is evidence Russian bots and propagandists helped back Catalan separatism.
  • It is possible to observe a slight shift in the statements of the Spanish government’s representatives regarding Russia, but no specific measures have been taken.
  • The country has a Strategic Communication Plan, but its content is classified.

Relations with the Russian Federation


Trying to stay away from the issues. Historical, energy-related or economically special relations with Russia. Does not feel threatened and does not acknowledge the threat, outside of the conflict of Ukraine.[1]

Spain is an EU and NATO member state located in the westernmost part of Europe. Being located far away from Russia and not affected by the same fears as the easternmost EU member states, Spain remains focused on engaging in dialogue with Russia. This, however, does not negate Spain’s concern with Russian military build-up and Russia’s actions in Ukraine. At the same time, Spain remains sceptical over possible European expansion, and Russia’s status as a strategic partner in the fight against terrorism has left a mark on Spain’s attitude of hesitance in making strong moves to counter Russian threat. However, this is more of a sign of the lack of any serious ties with Russia, rather than Spanish attempts to oppose other EU member states who have real concerns over Russian threats. Economy-wise, Russia does not play a significant role in Spanish energy imports, but Russian tourism plays a big role in the Spanish economy. Thus, Spain was one of the several countries to voice criticism against anti-Russian sanctions, but so far, Spain joined other EU nations in supporting Ukraine’s territorial integrity.[2]

Political acknowledgement of the threat


Spain has become more aware of the Russian threat after the Spanish Army participated in 2015 NATO exercise in the Baltics, where it experienced the spread of Russian disinformation targeted against the Spanish Army and efforts to directly influence Spanish journalists.

It is possible to observe a slight shift in the statements of the Spanish government’s representatives regarding Russia. The current Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alfonso Dastis, said that Spain needs to be aware of threats coming from Russia (such as cyber-attacks or Russian propaganda in European countries), but Russia is still a key player and a partner of Spain, therefore, there are no concrete steps or measures to be undertaken or planned so far.

In the 2017 Strategy Panorama issued by the ministry of Defense, it is stated: “There is evidence of a Russian strategy of meddling with European internal politics. The activities and instruments the Russians are using as part of this strategy include taking part in online debates and newspapers’ comment sections, subsidising Eurosceptic and right-wing parties (for example UKIP in Britain and the National Front in France), and subsidising seminars and academic lectures and cyberattacks.”[3]

The Spanish political mainstream appears aligned with the West. Only one major Spanish political party, Podemos, openly opposes sanctions on Russia.[4]

Spanish awareness of Russian disinformation and tactics increased after it appeared that Russia-based bots posted in support of the region’s separatist government, which attempted to declare independence in October 2017. Defence minister Maria Dolores de Cospedal stated "many of the actions come from Russian territory."[5] Spain’s foreign minister Alfonso Dastis added[6] that Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’ founder, met with an unnamed Catalan independence figure. Assange tends to avoid leaking Russian documents, suggesting a symbiotic relationship between WikiLeaks and the Kremlin.

Representatives of the Ministry of Defence / the Defence Staff considers Russian propaganda to be a threat, even though not a significant one, which is to be dealt with by implementing measures in strategic communication.

Government activities against Russian influence & disinformation

Spain has a Strategic Communication Plan, although it is classified. It is expected that the Department for strategic communication under the MoD will be boosted, in connection with the presence of Spanish troops in Eastern Europe within the engagement of NATO. Spain also has its own Cyber Security Strategy.[7]

The Spanish government fully supports activities at the EU and NATO level regarding the threat posed by Russia, although it does not actively engage in countering it. As stated previously, Spain is a lot more concerned with the threat of Islamic extremism and terrorism, therefore, it is more interested in international cooperation in connection with that issue. Concerning Spain’s military involvement, the country is providing forces for a NATO unit in Latvia.[8]

Foreign minister Dastis added “We wish to strengthen and develop our cooperation with the strategic communication structures of other member states and of the European Union itself." However, it did not sign on to the 2017 letter urging Federica Mogherini to take action against disinformation, which NATO allies Britain, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, among others, signed.

The approach of intelligence agencies to Russian interference


A few alleged Russian hackers were arrested on Spanish soil, based on US warrants.[9] Nevertheless, Russian secret services are active on Spanish soil and even managed to get one Spanish counter-intelligence agent to spy for Russia.[10] In general, the focus of Spanish intelligence is heavily oriented at countering terrorism.

Activities of the non-governmental sector


Spanish non-governmental sector is not much concerned with the issue of Russia, however, some individuals do engage in it, for example Nicloás De Pedro from the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs. Strengthening media literacy is not a part of Spanish public debate. There are several fact-checking websites active in Spain, however, they mostly focus only on internal political issues.

Spanish academics have done excellent research on Russian disinformation against their country. George Washington University visiting professor Javier Lesaca analysed[11] 5,029,877 messages, finding that almost 50% of the fake news came from Russia while another 30% came from Venezuelan or Chavista-linked accounts. Additionally, “Half of the news stories shared by RT in the days immediately prior and after the October 1 referendum in Catalonia were about the police violence during the day.”[12] Further corroborating evidence of bot activity, the study noted that “in some cases, these accounts were detected to be publishing the same content at the same time, reinforcing the hypothesis of the use of robots.”[13] Mainstream media has been effective in rejecting Russian propaganda. Lasheras and de Pedro report that media editorials on Russia often take a harder stance on Russia than the government.[14] Spanish civil society, though new to combating disinformation, has abundant resources at hand and is beginning to implement them.


[1] “How do European democracies react to Russian aggression”. European Values. 22 April 2017. Available at: http://www.europeanvalues.net/russia/ 
[2] Janda, Sharibzhanov, Terzi, Krejčí and Fišer: “How do European democracies react to Russian aggression?”. European Values Think-Tank. 22 April 2017. Available at: http://www.europeanvalues.net/vyzkum/european-democracies-react-russian-aggression/ 
[3] “IEEE - Strategic Panorama 2017,” accessed November 27, 2017, http://www.ieee.es/en/publicaciones-new/panorama-estrategico/2017/PANEST-2017.html.  
[4] Council, Atlantic. “The Kremlin’s Trojan Horses 2.0.” Atlantic Council. Accessed February 7, 2018. http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/publications/reports/the-kremlin-s-trojan-horses-2-0
[5] Vasco Cotovio and Emanuella Grinberg CNN, “Spain: ‘Misinformation’ on Catalonia Vote Came from Russia,” CNN, accessed November 27, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/11/13/europe/catalonia-russia-connection-referendum/index.html.  
[6] Ibid.
[7] „National Cyber Security Strategy”. Gobierno de España. 2013. Available at: https://www.enisa.europa.eu/topics/national-cyber-security-strategies/ncss-map/NCSS_ESen.pdf 
[8] John R. Deni: “Enhancing NATO’s Forward Presence”. Carnegie Europe. 27 April 2017. Available at: http://carnegieeurope.eu/strategiceurope/68792 
[9] Graham Keeley: “Spain arrests Russian ‘hacker’ in Barcelona”. The Times. 19 January 2017. Available at:  https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/spain-arrests-russian-hacker-in-madrid-hj8xm5gcc 

“Russian arrested in Spain ‘over mass hacking’”. BBC. 10 April 2017. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-39553250 
[10] “El ex agente del CNI Flórez, primer condenado por traición en democracia”. El Mundo. 11 February 2010. Available at: http://www.elmundo.es/elmundo/2010/02/11/espana/1265892033.html 
[11] David Alandete, “Russian Network Used Venezuelan Accounts to Deepen Catalan Crisis,” EL PAÍS, November 11, 2017, https://elpais.com/elpais/2017/11/11/inenglish/1510395422_468026.html.  
[12] Ibid.   
[13] Ibid.
[14] Council, Atlantic. “The Kremlin’s Trojan Horses 2.0.” Atlantic Council. Accessed February 7, 2018. http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/publications/reports/the-kremlin-s-trojan-horses-2-0

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