In March 2019, Mr. Alay traveled to Moscow, just weeks after leaders of the Catalan independence movement went on trial. Three months later, Mr. Alay went again.

In Russia, according to the intelligence report, Mr. Alay and Mr. Dmitrenko met with several active foreign intelligence officers, as well as Oleg V. Syromolotov, the former chief of counterintelligence for the Federal Security Service, Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, who now oversees counterterrorism as a deputy minister at the Russian foreign ministry.

Mr. Alay denied meeting Mr. Syromolotov and the officers but acknowledged meeting Yevgeny Primakov, the grandson of a famous K.G.B. spymaster, in order to secure an interview with Mr. Puigdemont on an international affairs program he hosted on Kremlin television. Last year, Mr. Primakov was appointed by Mr. Putin to run a Russian cultural agency that, according to European security officials, often serves as a front for intelligence operations.

“Good news from Moscow,” Mr. Alay later texted to Mr. Puigdemont, informing him of Mr. Primakov’s appointment. In another exchange, Mr. Dmitrenko told Mr. Alay that Mr. Primakov’s elevation “puts him in a very good position to activate things between us.”

Mr. Alay also confirmed meeting Andrei Bezrukov, a decorated former officer with Russia’s foreign intelligence service. For more than a decade, Mr. Bezrukov and his wife, Yelena Vavilova, were deep cover operatives living in the United States using the code names Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley.

It was their story of espionage, arrest and eventual return to Russia in a spy swap that served as a basis for the television series “The Americans.” Mr. Alay appears to have become close with the couple. Working with Mr. Dmitrenko, he spent about three months in the fall of 2020 on a Catalan translation of Ms. Vavilova’s autobiographical novel “The Woman Who Can Keep Secrets,” according to his encrypted correspondence.

Mr. Alay, who is also a college professor and author, said he was invited by Mr. Bezrukov, who now teaches at a Moscow university, to deliver two lectures.

Mr. Alay was accompanied on each of his trips by Mr. Dmitrenko, 33, a Russian businessman who is married to a Catalan woman. Mr. Dmitrenko did not respond to requests for comment. But Spanish authorities have monitored him and in 2019 rejected a citizenship application from him because of his Russian contacts, according to a Spanish Ministry of Justice decision reviewed by The Times.

The decision said Mr. Dmitrenko “receives missions” from Russian intelligence and also “does different jobs” for leaders of Russian organized crime.

A few months after Mr. Alay’s trips to Moscow, Catalonia erupted in protests.

A group calling itself Tsunami Democratic occupied the offices of one of Spain’s largest banks, closed a main highway between France and Spain for two days and orchestrated the takeover of the Barcelona airport, forcing the cancellation of more than a hundred flights.

The group’s origins have remained unclear, but one of the confidential police files stated that Mr. Alay attended a meeting in Geneva, where he and other independence activists finalized plans for Tsunami Democratic’s unveiling.

Three days after Tsunami Democratic occupied the Barcelona airport, two Russians flew from Moscow to Barcelona, the Catalan capital, according to flight records obtained by The Times.

One was Sergei Sumin, whom the intelligence report describes as a colonel in Russia’s Federal Protective Service, which oversees security for Mr. Putin and is not known for activities abroad.

The other was Artyom Lukoyanov, the adopted son of a top adviser to Mr. Putin, one who was deeply involved in Russia’s efforts to support separatists in eastern Ukraine.

According to the intelligence report, Mr. Alay and Mr. Dmitrenko met the two men in Barcelona for a strategy session to discuss the independence movement, though the report offered no other details.

Mr. Alay denied any connection to Tsunami Democratic. He confirmed that he had met with Mr. Sumin and Mr. Lukoyanov at the request of Mr. Dmitrenko, but only to “greet them politely.”

Even as the protests faded, Mr. Puigdemont’s associates remained busy. His lawyer, Mr. Boye, flew to Moscow in February 2020 to meet Vasily Khristoforov, whom Western law enforcement agencies describe as a senior Russian organized crime figure. The goal, according to the report, was to enlist Mr. Khristoforov to help set up a secret funding channel for the independence movement.

In an interview, Mr. Boye acknowledged meeting in Moscow with Mr. Khristoforov, who is wanted in several countries including Spain on suspicion of financial crimes, but said they only discussed matters relating to Mr. Khristoforov’s legal cases.

By late 2020, Mr. Alay’s texts reveal an eagerness to keep his Russian contacts happy. In exchanges with Mr. Puigdemont and Mr. Boye, he said they should avoid any public statements that might anger Moscow, especially about the democracy protests that Russia was helping to disperse violently in Belarus.

Mr. Puigdemont did not always heed the advice, appearing in Brussels with the Belarusian opposition and tweeting his support for the protesters, prompting Mr. Boye to text Mr. Alay that “we will have to tell the Russians that this was just to mislead.”

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Of Brexit and Boris: What’s Driving the Call for Scottish Independence

The millions of votes counted across Scotland on Saturday could be among the most consequential in recent times, and not because of their impact on things like health, education and fisheries. The greatest issue facing the country, and the one that was really at stake, was nowhere to be found on the ballot, and that is the future of its 314-year-old union with England.

While the last votes were still being counted on Saturday in the parliamentary elections, it appeared virtually certain that the pro-independence Scottish National Party would fall short of the majority it had hoped would create an irresistible momentum for a new referendum on breaking away from the United Kingdom. But it will retain power in Edinburgh, probably with the support of the Scottish Greens, guaranteeing that the issue will continue to dominate Scottish politics, as it has in recent years.

A lot. A second independence plebiscite, following one in 2014, could lead to the fracturing of the United Kingdom. Were Scotland to become independent, Britain would lose eight percent of its population, a third of its landmass and significant amounts of international prestige.

Some say the loss of Scotland would be the biggest blow to a British prime minister since Lord North lost the colonies in America in the 18th century. Understandably, the current prime minister, Boris Johnson, is no fan of the idea.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister. Her party has led the Scottish government for 14 years and she has earned praise for her steady handling of the coronavirus pandemic, particularly compared with the early performance of Mr. Johnson.

There are smaller parties that want another vote, too, like the Greens, who are close to the S.N.P. Another pro-independence party, Alba, is led by Alex Salmond, who is not an ally of Ms. Sturgeon — at least not any more. A former first minister himself, Mr. Salmond was once Ms. Sturgeon’s mentor, but the two have recently been embroiled in a bitter feud, and his election campaign fell flat.

Re-established in 1999, Scotland’s Parliament was designed to quiet calls for Scottish independence, but it hasn’t worked out like that. The pro-independence S.N.P. has become the dominant force and, in 2011, won a rare overall majority in a Parliament where the voting system is designed to avoid any one party’s domination. After that result, the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron reluctantly agreed to the 2014 independence referendum.

Ms. Sturgeon had been hoping that a thumping victory for the pro-independence parties in these elections would give her the moral authority to demand another plebiscite. They fell short, but Ms. Sturgeon will keep up pressure for a referendum claiming that, combined with the vote for the Greens, she has a mandate.

They show a divided Scotland, split down the middle over independence. That is in line with the findings of opinion polls that last year showed a majority favoring independence only to fall back slightly in recent months. The Scottish Conservatives, the opposition Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats all oppose independence.

So dominant is the issue that some anti-independence voters seem to have switched allegiance from their normal parties to support the one most likely to defeat the S.N.P. in their area. Ms. Sturgeon is on course to remain first minister, which is an impressive achievement, but with her path to an overall majority likely cut off, her moral case for a second referendum has been weakened.

For a second independence referendum to be legal it would almost certainly need the agreement of London, and Mr. Johnson has repeatedly said no. That’s a big problem for Ms. Sturgeon, because she wants the result of any second referendum to be accepted internationally and for Scotland to be allowed to return to the European Union.

Far from it. Even if she has to rely on the Greens, Ms. Sturgeon is likely to have enough votes to push legislation for “indyref2” through the Scottish Parliament and then challenge Mr. Johnson or his allies to stop it in court.

That could cause a constitutional crisis. After all, Scotland’s union with England in 1707 was voluntary, making it hard for London to say no forever to another referendum. And Ms. Sturgeon may calculate that support for independence will only grow if Scots see the popular will being blocked by a government in England.

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Scottish Election Could Boost Independence Movement

If the pro-independence vote surges in Thursday’s elections for the Scottish Parliament, momentum for an another referendum on independence may become unstoppable.


It has weathered the conquest and loss of an empire, survived two world wars and witnessed more than one deadly pandemic. But now Scotland’s ancient alliance with England is itself in poor health and on Thursday it could take a serious turn for the worse.

When Scottish voters go to the polls to elect 129 members of Scotland’s Parliament , strictly speaking the question of independence will not be on the ballot.

Yet, as these photos vividly illustrate, Scotland is grappling with an uncertain future. Pressure is growing for a second referendum on whether to leave the United Kingdom, breaking up a 314-year-old union. If Scots vote in sufficient numbers for pro-independence parties in Thursday’s election, the momentum for another plebiscite could become unstoppable.

shellfish catches spoiled and boats tied up in harbors.

Both sides of the debate see lessons in that. The pro-independence Scottish National Party, led by the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, points to the economic damage and says she would aim to rejoin the European Union after breaking away from England. In so doing Scotland could make a success of independence like other small nations like Ireland, which took that step a century ago.

Her critics say that this would pile more economic misery on top of Brexit by destroying the common economic market with England, easily Scotland’s biggest trading partner. It would probably also mean a physical trade border between England and Scotland, a frontier that is in some places hard even to spot.

Nonetheless, the 2016 Brexit referendum showed that appeals to emotion can trump those to the wallet. In Scotland identity issues have grown within a proud nation that always maintained a separate, some would say superior, legal and educational system.

Ms. Sturgeon’s S.N.P. is aiming for a rare overall majority in the Scottish Parliament to justify her calls for a second independence referendum. Failing that, she hopes that votes for other pro-independence parties, especially the Greens, will be enough to bolster her case.

Support for independence in opinion polls peaked last year at above 50 percent while Ms. Sturgeon’s handling of the pandemic looked sure-footed at a time when Mr. Johnson’s seemed chaotic.

But the successful rollout the Covid-19 vaccine — for which Mr. Johnson can take credit — has coincided with a slight dip in Ms. Sturgeon’s fortunes. Also campaigning in Thursday election is Alex Salmond, a veteran of the pro-independence cause but now a sworn enemy of Ms. Sturgeon who was once his protégé. The two politicians fell out over Ms. Sturgeon’s role in a bungled investigation into allegations against Mr. Salmond of sexual misconduct.

After months of feuding with her former mentor, Ms. Sturgeon survived a damaging crisis but Mr. Salmond has formed a new pro-independence party, Alba.

There are domestic issues at stake too and, after 14 years in power in Edinburgh, the S.N.P. has many critics in Scotland. In TV debates Ms. Sturgeon has been forced to defend her record on everything ranging from educational achievement to Scotland’s poor record on drug deaths.

In the Shetland Islands some voters feel as remote from Ms. Sturgeon’s government in Edinburgh as from Mr. Johnson’s in London, and there is even talk of the islands opting for independence from Scotland.

On the mainland the mood is uncertainty. For Ms. Sturgeon tough questions lie ahead about whether an independent Scotland could afford the sort of social policies she favors without the support of taxpayers in England or their central bank.

Noticeably absent from these photos is Mr. Johnson, who has stayed away from Scotland, knowing that his presence would probably undercut the Conservative Party’s pitch to preserve the union. Educated at Britain’s most famous high school, Eton College, and then Oxford University, Mr. Johnson’s cultivated English upper-class persona tends to grate on Scottish voters.

Despite his absence the stakes are for high for Mr. Johnson. The loss of Scotland would deprive the United Kingdom of about a third of its landmass and significant international prestige.

It would also likely mean the closure of the Faslane nuclear submarine base that the S.N.P. opposes, believing its location makes the nearby city of Glasgow a military target.

Were Mr. Johnson to lose a Scottish independence referendum, he would probably have to resign, and his strategy so far has simply been to reject calls for one. For a plebiscite to be legally binding an agreement almost certainly would have to first be struck with London, and the prime minister can continue to stonewall for some time.

But whatever the law, it’s hard to say no indefinitely. And a centuries-old union could face its greatest test if a majority in Scotland, which joined voluntarily with England in 1707, thinks now is the time to think again.

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Navalny’s Group Is Disbanding Its Network in Russia

MOSCOW — Associates of Aleksei A. Navalny have been forced to disband the imprisoned Russian opposition leader’s network of 40 regional offices, one of his top aides said Thursday, a step that pushes the domestic resistance to President Vladimir V. Putin further underground.

The move was inevitable, Mr. Navalny’s aide, Leonid Volkov, said in a YouTube video, amid the Kremlin’s latest efforts to stifle political dissent. Moscow prosecutors on April 16 announced that they would seek a court ruling to have Mr. Navalny’s movement declared an extremist organization, and the court quickly ordered Mr. Navalny’s groups to halt all public activity, including participating in political campaigns or referendums.

“Alas, we must be honest: it’s impossible to work under these conditions,” Mr. Volkov said, warning that continuing to operate would expose Navalny supporters to criminal prosecution. “We are officially disbanding the network of Navalny offices.”

Mr. Volkov predicted that while some offices would close, others would transform into independent political entities engaged in local politics. Either way, the end of Mr. Navalny’s nationwide network — from Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea to Vladivostok on the Pacific — represented the end of an era in Russian politics.

February conviction for defamation of a World War II veteran that resulted in an $11,500 fine. The court denied the appeal.

It was Mr. Navalny’s first public appearance since he started his hunger strike demanding better medical treatment.

Mr. Navalny ended the hunger strike last week after 24 days, saying his demands had been partially met. On the courtroom video screens, Mr. Navalny appeared gaunt, but as he talked over the judge’s attempts to interrupt his closing statement, his voice sounded nearly as forceful as it was in his dramatic courtroom appearances earlier this year.

Mr. Putin, Mr. Navalny said, was trying to wrap himself in the glory of the Soviet Union’s victory in World War II in order to justify his effort to stay in power.

“Your king with no clothes has stolen the banner of victory and is trying to fashion it into a thong for himself,” Mr. Navalny said, addressing the judge, according to a recording of his speech published by the BBC’s Russian-language service. “All your authorities are occupiers and traitors.”

splashy corruption investigations published on YouTube, the local offices highlighted what they described as theft and injustice carried out by local officials.

“Most will continue their work as self-sufficient, independent, regional civic and political movements, with strong people at the helm,” Mr. Volkov said of the offices. “This means that everything we have done together up until now will not have been for naught.”

Mr. Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation continues to operate, though prosecutors are also seeking to have it outlawed as extremist. Some of Mr. Navalny’s associates are keeping the foundation running from outside Russia; on Wednesday, they published a video disclosing what they said were the salaries of Mr. Navalny’s loudest critics on RT, the Russian state-funded television network.

Prosecutors have for years harried Mr. Navalny and other opposition figures, but usually under pretexts like violating rules on public gatherings, laws unrelated to their political activities or more recently regulations against gatherings to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

That approach provided a pretense of legal acceptance for political dissent, which is guaranteed under Russia’s 1993 post-Soviet Constitution. But this month’s effort to declare Mr. Navalny’s movement “extremist” has been distinct for directly targeting the political activity of Mr. Navalny’s nongovernmental organizations.

Hearings in the extremism case are continuing this week — behind closed doors, because the evidence has been deemed classified. When they announced the case this month, the prosecutors argued that Mr. Navalny’s groups were seditious organizations disguised as a political movement. In a news release, prosecutors said that “under the guise of liberal slogans these organizations are busy forming conditions for destabilizing the social and sociopolitical situation.”

Andrew E. Kramer contributed reporting.

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Navalny’s Group Is Shutting all Its Offices in Russia

MOSCOW — Associates of Aleksei A. Navalny have been forced to disband the imprisoned Russian opposition leader’s network of 40 regional offices, one of his top aides said Thursday, a step that pushes the domestic resistance to President Vladimir V. Putin further underground.

The move was inevitable, Mr. Navalny’s aide, Leonid Volkov, said in a YouTube video, amid the Kremlin’s latest efforts to stifle political dissent. Moscow prosecutors on April 16 announced that they would seek a court ruling to have Mr. Navalny’s movement declared an extremist organization, and the court quickly ordered Mr. Navalny’s groups to halt all public activity, including participating in political campaigns or referendums.

“Alas, we must be honest: It’s impossible to work under these conditions,” Mr. Volkov said, warning that continuing to operate would expose Navalny supporters to criminal prosecution. “We are officially disbanding the network of Navalny offices.”

Mr. Volkov predicted that while some offices would close, others would transform into independent political entities engaged in local politics. Either way, the end of Mr. Navalny’s nationwide network — from Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea to Vladivostok on the Pacific — represented the end of an era in Russian politics.

splashy corruption investigations published on YouTube, the local offices highlighted what they described as theft and injustice carried out by local officials.

“Most will continue their work as self-sufficient, independent, regional civic and political movements, with strong people at the helm,” Mr. Volkov said of the offices. “This means that everything we have done together up until now will not have been for naught.”

February conviction for defamation of a World War II veteran that resulted in an $11,500 fine. It was his first public appearance since he started his hunger strike demanding better medical treatment.

Mr. Navalny ended the hunger strike last week after 24 days, saying his demands had been partially met. On the courtroom video screens Thursday, Mr. Navalny appeared gaunt, but as he talked over the judge’s attempts to interrupt his closing statement, his voice sounded nearly as forceful as it was in his dramatic courtroom appearances earlier this year.

Mr. Putin, Mr. Navalny said, was trying to wrap himself in the glory of the Soviet Union’s victory in World War II in order to justify his effort to stay in power.

“Your king with no clothes has stolen the banner of victory and is trying to fashion it into a thong for himself,” Mr. Navalny said, addressing the judge, according to a recording of his speech published by the BBC Russian Service. “All your authorities are occupiers and traitors.”

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Russia Suspends Public Activity by Navalny’s Political Groups

MOSCOW — Prosecutors in President Vladimir V. Putin’s government ordered an immediate halt on Monday to all public activity by Aleksei A. Navalny’s political groups, in one of the more sweeping legal moves against the Russian opposition in recent years.

Previously, prosecutors had targeted Mr. Navalny and other opposition figures mostly on pretexts, such as accusations they had violated rules for public gatherings, laws unrelated to politics or more recently restrictions on public meetings because of the coronavirus.

The order issued on Monday differed from those precedents in that it directly targeted the opposition groups for what are usually seen as political activities.

It was the latest move in a long cat-and-mouse battle between Mr. Putin and Mr. Navalny. The opposition leader has led an anti-corruption drive that has frustrated and embarrassed the Russian leader for years, despite unrelenting pressure from the Russian authorities.

wrote on Twitter, referring to a voting strategy in which the opposition coalesces around the single strongest candidate in a given race.

Though overshadowed by the assassination attempt on Mr. Navalny last year and his imprisonment and hunger strike this spring, the legal onslaught against his movement also carries potentially far-reaching implications. Mr. Putin’s system of governance is sometimes called a “soft authoritarian” approach because it allows open opposition and more internet freedoms than in China.

Other political parties exist in Russia that are ostensibly in the opposition, but in fact they back Mr. Putin and most of his policies while criticizing officials lower down the pecking order, such as regional governors. The order singled out Mr. Navalny’s nongovernmental groups — he has not been allowed to form a legal political party — for posing a risk to “the interests of the Russian Federation.”

The evidence in the case has been classified. The order, which was published online by Mr. Navalny’s aides, said the ban covering three of Mr. Navalny’s nongovernmental organizations could be appealed but would otherwise be in effect until a court ruling that might make it permanent.

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A Go-It-Alone President Wants to Reshape Haiti. Some Are Skeptical.

Haiti’s president knows he has a problem: Governing a country that at times seems to verge on the ungovernable is hard enough when you have a lot of support.

Jovenel Moïse clearly does not.

In a recent interview, the Haitian leader lamented that he has the confidence of only a small sliver of his people.

He won the 2016 elections with just under 600,000 votes in a country of 11 million. And now many are angry over his refusal to leave office in January, amid a dispute over whether his term ended then or should extend for one more year.

Yet Mr. Moïse, 52, has chosen this moment to embark on the biggest shake-up Haiti’s politics has seen in decades, overseeing the drafting of a new Constitution that will restructure government and give the presidency greater powers.

desperation is at an all-time high. Many Haitians are unable to step onto the street to run basic errands without worrying about being kidnapped for ransom.

Mr. Moïse says he, too, is concerned about voter participation.

“There is a silent majority,” he said. “Many Haitians don’t want to participate in something they think will be violent. We need peace and stability to encourage people to vote.”

As the June referendum on the Constitution approaches, the government is trying to register five million voters, Mr. Moïse said. His goal, he said, is to inject the process with more legitimacy than his presidency had.

According to the United Nations, there are at least 6.7 million potential voters in Haiti. Others say that number is an undercount, since many Haitians are undocumented, their births never registered with the government.

In an effort to placate critics, and ease concerns that he is positioning himself to benefit from the new Constitution, Mr. Moïse has promised not to run in the next election.

But to fix the country before he steps down, he says, he needs to accumulate enough power to take on an oligarchy he says has paralyzed Haiti to profit off a government too weak to regulate or tax their businesses.

“We are suffering today from state capture — it is the biggest problem we face today,” Mr. Moïse said.

Some view with deep skepticism Mr. Moïse’s claims that he has made an enemy out of big businesses by trying to regulate them. They say the president is simply trying to stoke populist sentiment to deflect from the failures of his own government and sideline political opponents.

Others are willing to be more charitable, but say he has not done enough to build support.

“The problem is that the way that Moïse has gone about it,” said Alexandra Filippova, a senior staff attorney with the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, an organization that provides legal representation for victims of human rights abuses. “He is unilaterally pushing it forward.”

The draft Constitution, for example, released last month, is available only in French — which the vast majority of Haitians do not read — instead of Creole.

And no members of civil society were invited to take part as the document was drafted. Mr. Moïse instead appointed a special commission to do that. That, critics say, dims the chances for real progress.

“Constitutional change is supposed to reflect a social consensus of some sort,” Ms. Filippova said.

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