By Kaan Sahin
Ever since the Kremlin’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Western capitals have been alarmed at Russia’s hybrid warfare campaigns. That these activities are not limited to the U.S. domestic scene was raised by U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, who has alerted Washington’s French and German allies of Moscow’s overt and covert interference in elections in their countries.
Germany in particular had already been confronted with this phenomenon even before November 2016. As the crucial player in the EU and due to its specific relationship with Moscow, Berlin is notably vulnerable to Russia’s tactics. Given this preeminent status, Germany should respond to Russian hybrid warfare in a number of ways, both domestically and internationally.
Since 2014 and the outbreak of the crises in eastern Ukraine and Crimea, Germany has repeatedly fallen victim to Russia’s manipulation attempts. Berlin is principally concerned with the new methods and strategies of interference that it has been facing.
The incident most prominently etched in the German government’s memory is the so-called Lisa case. In January 2016, reports circulated on social media that a thirteen-year-old Russian-German girl named Lisa had been missing for thirty hours and had allegedly been raped by three refugees. Thanks to investigations by the German police, the allegations were quickly debunked: the girl had been with a friend and had not been raped. However, Russian domestic and foreign media immediately took up the story and insisted it was accurate. As a consequence, groups from Germany’s Russian minority and right-wing sympathizers organized joint demonstrations in front of the Federal Chancellery in Berlin. The incident reached its peak when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the German authorities of a politically motivated cover-up of the story.
Beyond this infamous disinformation operation, the German Bundestag experienced several cyberattacks by Russian hackers in 2015 and 2016. Against this backdrop, it is no surprise that German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that dealing with such attacks of Russian origin had become a “daily task.” Furthermore, Germany’s domestic intelligence service has warned German policymakers of Russia’s attempts to influence the parliamentary election in September 2017. These concerns were echoed by Bruno Kahl, the head of Germany’s foreign intelligence service.
Picture: Kremlin.ru [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons