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Violence, 'Hypocrisy' In Catalonia: Russia Reacts To Spanish Turmoil


Spanish police confront people outside a polling station for the banned independence referendum in Tarragona, Spain, on October 1.

MOSCOW -- Russian media have devoted extensive coverage to police violence that marred a referendum in the Spanish region of Catalonia, painting a picture of double standards in a European Union rattled by referendums and fighting for survival.

Calling it an "internal Spanish matter," the Kremlin, however, has declined to comment on the independence vote -- held on October 1 despite a ban by Spain's Constitutional Court -- or on the accompanying violence that saw hundreds injured as police used batons and tear gas against crowds of Catalans.

The Russian Foreign Ministry echoed that line on October 2, prompting the Spanish Embassy in Moscow to tweet its gratitude at Moscow's stance on the "illegal referendum."

Such official caution notwithstanding, several Russian lawmakers quickly accused Brussels of "hypocrisy" for not immediately condemning the police use of force.

The European Union noted the vote was "not legal" but urged "all relevant players to now move very swiftly from confrontation to dialogue." It added, "Violence can never be an instrument in politics."

Some Russian media compared the referendum to a vote Russia staged in occupied Crimea during its military annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula in 2014, while others speculated that Brussels "ordered" Madrid to carry out "repressive action" to nip the referendum in the bud.

Aleksei Martynov, a political commentator, argued in an opinion piece for the pro-Kremlin tabloid Izvestia that Brussels was rattled by the Brexit referendum and was now using "all possible means" to hold the bloc together.

"Emerging from the stupor of animal fear, the Euro-bureaucrats have cursed the very word 'referendum' and today are ready, having transcended their own rhetorical principles, to repressively defend the European Union in its current form through all possible means, but by the hands of national governments," Martynov wrote.

He concluded: "Today's events in Spanish Catalonia in any case mark the end of European political romanticism. Harsh, gray days lie ahead. Orwell lives."

'Hypocrisy'

Lawmaker Andrei Klimov accused the West of hypocrisy, contrasting its "silence" on the violence in Spain with reactions to events in Ukraine, where Western leaders called on Kyiv not to use force against protesters during the Euromaidan unrest that toppled Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014.

In comments to Russian state English-language broadcaster RT, Klimov said: "As far as I remember, they urged Yanukovych with all their might to avoid the use of force. They made him remove his Berkut [riot police] from the Maidan, remove the police, call back city forces. Now we see everything in reverse: the arrival of troops, the national guard, and the use of force."

Aleksei Pushkov, a pro-Kremlin lawmaker and chair of the Federation Council's committee on information policy, echoed that sentiment via Twitter: "In Catalonia the police [have] started beating the peacefully protesting people who are not making provocations. PACE and the PA OSCE will definitely not notice this. Democracy!"

The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) told TASS on October 2 that it would not comment on the vote because it had no observers present. Earlier, the OSCE office's director called on Spanish authorities to "ensure that police use force only when necessary and in strict adherence to the principle of proportionality."

On October 2, RT ran a piece titled Respect For Democracy? that cited a tweet from Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, who called on the European Commission to suspend Spain from the EU over the violence for its "clear violation of Article 2."

'Very Cautious'

Writing on Facebook, Sergei Markov, a pro-Kremlin political commentator and former lawmaker for the ruling United Russia party, said Moscow was taking a "very cautious" position for several reasons.

Markov said Moscow believed interfering would be "counterproductive" and also wanted to avoid allegations of interference, in part hoping such behavior would be noted by the European Union. He added: "The allegations in the U.S. are more than enough. Russia is literally being hounded," a reference to the fallout in the United States, where Russia has been accused of interfering in the 2016 presidential election that brought Donald Trump to power.

Nonetheless, Markov wrote, Moscow wanted to "underline that the European Union has no moral right to lecture Russia." He added that Russia also had no particular "compassion" for Madrid, which it sees as part of the front of Western powers pressuring Russia with sanctions. "So Russia for the moment is silent, and Russian television stations are focusing on the violence in Catalonia," Markov wrote.

Like Crimea

RT broadcast an interview given to Austrian television by Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of Austria's far-right Freedom Party, in which he compared the situation in Catalonia to that in Crimea. In the latter, Russia completed its annexation of the Ukrainian region with a referendum in March 2014 that was widely condemned by the international community.

"The referendum in Crimea, as in Catalonia, was held on the basis of the right to self-determination, and its outcome was very clear," RT paraphrased Strache's line of argument. "In order to overcome prolonged confrontation, the European Union should either recognize the results of the people's vote in Crimea or demand that it is conducted again under international control."

'Pandora's Box'

Pro-Kremlin lawmaker Pushkov said the referendum was ultimately the West's fault -- and a direct consequence of backing Kosovo when it declared independence from Serbia in 2008. "Let's remember how NATO supported the separation of Kosovo. Moscow warned: this will open Pandora's box in Europe. Catalonia is an effect of the open box."

Speaking on October 2 to state news agency RIA Novosti, Klimov drew the same comparison with Kosovo, although he drew a different conclusion. "The European Union and Spanish government will do everything to give the impression that nothing has happened. If necessary, as we've seen, harsh force will be used."

And, Klimov said, unlike Kosovo, Catalonia will never be given independence because "no one canceled double standards."

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