The Russian town of Volkhov is 76 miles east of St. Petersburg and is named after the river that runs through it. At the end of October 1941, during WW2, it saw action by Spain’s Blue Division, a volunteer unit fighting for Nazi Germany on the eastern front. Now, nearly eighty years later, Spain’s Guardia Civil have borrowed the name of the town where the Spanish fascists engaged the Red Army to christen the police operation they launched on Wednesday against individuals accused of bankrolling Catalonia’s independence push. Operation Volkhov has led to a number of arrests after several premises were searched for evidence.
Among those in custody is publisher Oriol Soler, who supposedly played a behind-the-scenes role in the 2017 independence bid and is allegedly being probed over a hypothetical attempt to mediate between Russia and the Catalan government. The Guardia Civil and the examining magistrate believe that a meeting between Oriol Solé and Julian Assange in London in November 2017 “was part of a disinformation and destabilisation strategy aided by the Russian government”. Furthermore, the police report claims that in an audio file found on his phone, Víctor Terradellas (a former Convergència party official) stated that in October 2017 Moscow offered then-president Carles Puigdemont “10,000 Russian troops [to support Catalonia’s independence push], plus footing the bill of Catalonia’s public debt”.
A failed offensive
Back in 1941 it was Spain’s Blue Division that was fighting Russia’s influence, which was part of the Soviet Union at the time. But, much like Wednesday’s police operation, the Battle of Volkhov also used the element of surprise. The goal was to destroy enemy positions on the other side of the river to allow the Wehrmacht to push east into Soviet-held ground. However, all they managed to occupy was “several small settlements of little value that you could barely call villages”, according to Xavier Moreno, a historian with Universitat Rovira i Virgili, who was interviewed on the subject by Madrid daily ABC in 2013. Moreno added that, after five weeks of “suffering” in Posad and Otenski, those villages became “a meat grinder for hundreds of Spanish soldiers who were killed in action”.