Russia attempted to influence German public opinion to oppose support for Ukraine and become more hostile toward the West, according to a report by The Washington Post on Friday.
The US newspaper reviewed Kremlin documents that recorded meetings between its officials and Russian political strategists about how to unite elements in the Left Party and the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) behind a common, pro-Moscow cause.
The documents were first obtained by an undisclosed European intelligence agency.
"The documents basically show that Kremlin officials gave orders to a group of political strategists working with the Kremlin to focus on Germany as the base for efforts to weaken support in Europe for Ukraine and to try and sap support for weapons deliveries," Catherine Belton, one of the journalists behind the report, told DW.
"I think Germany was seen as a weak link but also the most important link because of its role in sending tanks and so on to Ukraine," she said.
What do the documents show?
According to one document from August 2022, the political strategists were told their main target was Germany, where they were tasked with discrediting the European Union, the United States, Britain and NATO. They were also tasked with convincing Germans that they were being harmed financially by sanctions against Russia.
"There wasn't a cold and freezing winter as Russia had predicted, but now they're seeking to leverage discontent over rising prices," Belton told DW.
Documents also showed that the strategists compiled information about planned "peace protests" across Germany.
The protests were variously organized by the far-left and the far-right, as well as the Reichsbürger movement, which was recently implicated in a failed plot to overthrow the German government.
The strategists reportedly devised slogans including "buy gas, not war" and "Ukraine wants war, Germany wants peace," that were featured at the pro-Moscow protests and shared online in coordination with troll farms.
Another document outlines a goal of boosting the proportion of Germans who support improved relations with Russia by 10% within three months.
Parties deny Russian meddling
The documents reportedly point to an attempt by Russia to gain influence in the Left Party and the Alternative for Germany party, with the aim of helping the latter win elections as the party of "German unity." Both parties rejected the report.
In particular, Russian officials were reportedly interested in Sahra Wagenknecht, a member of the Bundestag and former leader of the Left Party who still remains popular according to some polls.
Wagenknecht has made populist overtures to the right wing of the German electorate and has led several pro-Moscow, anti-war protests attended by members of both parties. However, she rejected the possibility of an official alliance with the AfD.
"She condemned the bloodshed, but never once did she really speak about Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which is what started the whole thing in the first place," Belton told DW.
"And she spoke very emotively about the great fear of being embroiled in a Great War again, and she was really playing on German fears dating back to the Cold War of being involved in a nuclear standoff," Belton said. "She is very skilled in how she speaks and she is very strongly on the pro-Russian side."
Wagenknecht told The Washington Post that any suggestion she received communications from Russian officials about an alliance with the far-right was "absurd" and said she had "not been in contact with anyone from the Russian state or any of its representatives."
After the report was published, AfD leader Tino Chrupalla denied any such plans and said the article was "a predatory story that serves to discredit the peace movement."
Edited by: Sean Sinico
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