How Russian propaganda works in Germany
Russian propaganda is particularly active in Germany. According to EUvsDisinfo, a European External Action Service project, no other EU member has been subjected to such a powerful disinformation attack as Germany has been.
Since late 2015, its database has documented at least 700 fake media items targeting Germany. For comparison, 300 fake media pieces were spotted in France, 170 in Italy, and 40 in Spain.
Russian propaganda in Germany is dispersed through several mediums — not only have Russian narratives been identified in printed publications and TV channels, they’re also imposed upon the German public opinion through bot and troll networks.
According to the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, the amount of content about Russia, Ukraine, and the Russian invasion on social platforms has increased exponentially since the start of the war, especially among conspiracy groups. In previous Institute analysis, it was found that German-language far-right and conspiracy circles had been spreading pro-Kremlin messages on Telegram and Facebook in the months before the Russian invasion of Ukraine had started. Importantly, among the most shared Telegram channels, the leading English-language channel of Russian state media outlet RT (Russia Today) was the fourth most widely shared. Links to the RT Telegram channel were shared 198 times, and the linked posts were viewed 511,195 times. On Telegram, these links were actively shared by two German-language QAnon channels with an average audience of 30,000 followers and a popular German conspiracy influencer Oliver Janich (158,700 followers). Following the EU-wide ban on RT and Sputnik, access to this channel was restricted by Telegram — the links, however, were posted even after the ban. These are just some of the examples of how Russian propaganda narratives have been spread across social media platofrms.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has previously called on the German government to react to the spread of Russian propaganda narratives in the German media. The ministry’s spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko noted that Russian propaganda is spread not only via Russian officials and known propagandists, but also through the Russian service of the German Deutsche-Welle news outlet which is funded by German taxpayers. Nikolenko highlighted some of the most frequent disinformation narratives circulating in the German media — among them, calls on the recognition of Ukraine as a terrorist state, placing the blame on the Ukrainian army for the potential occurrence of a nuclear disaster at the Zaporizhzhia NPP despitee it having been mined by the Russian troops, criticism of calls on Europe-wide visa ban for Russia, and so on.
As of mid-August, Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution had predicted an increase in Russian propaganda and intelligence activities may increase in the country in the coming months. “Russia is especially using the issue of energy supply to Europe as a hybrid tool,” the special service said on August 17, 2022. According to it, the Russian authorities are trying to increase the fear of German residents about a possible catastrophic energy and food crisis through the purposeful dissemination of false information. “Further growth of Russian propaganda in the extremist environment and the stimulation of conspiracy narratives aimed at dividing our society is likely,” the department noted. In addition, Russia is expected to continue intensifying and adapting to changing circumstances in its intelligence activities in the political and military spheres.
The German government has initiated efforts to curb the spread of Russian propaganda, but there’s a long road ahead.
We have collected several examples, narratives, and facts about the spread of Russian propaganda in Germany to draw attention to the forms and various approaches used. It’s important to remember to fact-check all information consumed as disinformation tactics tend to adapt to changes in political circumstances, hoping to catch their audience unaware.
Russia’s disinformation campaigns have been active in Germany since as early as late 2013. Since late 2015, the EUvsDisinfo database has documented at least 700 fake media items targeting the German public opinion.
With the beginning of the full-scale war, Russian propaganda in Germany turned to confusing the German public about the war in Ukraine and discrediting the plight of Ukrainian refugees, writing about Ukrainians who were allegedly “coming to Europe to destroy the European economy”, not escape Russian tanks and missiles.
In July, russian propagandists fabricated a video report about a Ukrainian refugee who was claimed to have raped women in Germany — a report that was subsequently proven false. Moreover, they presented it as a story by Deutsche Welle aiming to discredit the German media outlet.
Russian propaganda often weaponises the likelihood of social media users taking visual information online at face value. An example can be a video that went viral on German social media filmed by a man inside a littered, defaced train. Accompanied by a caption claiming the train was littered by Ukrainian refugees, the video was widely shared — and later refuted by by independent fact-checkers from Correctiv. The culprits? Football fans.
It was later confirmed the train was not used to transport Ukrainian refugees.
“Comparing Ukrainians with Nazis is an outdated technique of the Kremlin to manipulate historical memory and draw pseudo-analogies,” claims Ukrainian Center for Combating Disinformation.
Weaponisation of historically sensitive topics is also a tool of Russian propaganda. With German public opinion as target, narratives about neo-Nazis and ultranationalists in Ukraine are some of the most frequently promoted by Russian propaganda in attempts of drawing in condemnation.
Continuing the trend of weaponising history as a media tactic, the Russian media spread fake news alleging that Ukrainian refugees were invited to stay at a former Nazi concentration camp in Germany, posting photos of the camp decorated in Ukrainian colors. The claims were widely distributed by pro-Kremlin Telegram channels, some written in German, Italian, and Polish. The Sachsenhausen Memorial — once one of the biggest concentration camps under the Nazi regime — has defined the rumors as “fake”. Euronews had discovered the photos accompanying the initial claims were digitally altered and alleged “welcome” banners artificially added.
VoxCheck experts have created a database of russian propaganda in Germany, concluding that most of the fakes about the war in Ukraine were focused on:
- NATO forces allegedly militarizing Ukraine;
- the West allegedly preparing Ukraine for a war against Russia;
- the Ukrainian authorities allegedly planning to resolve the conflict in Donbas by force.
According to DGAP expert Stefan Meister, one of the areas of Russian influence in Germany is growing links with both, right- and left-wing populist parties.
Due to years-long intermingling between Russia and Germany’s far-right party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), the latter did not condemn Russia as an aggressor. Instead, (surprise-surprise!) they have been repeating propaganda narratives about NATO and the US as instigators of the war in Ukraine.
Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution predicts that Russian propaganda and intelligence activities may increase in the country in the coming months.
So, please, pay attention to the information which discredits not only facts about Ukraine but also local initiatives and representations.