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.
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.
“Comparing Ukrainians with Nazis is an outdated technique of the Kremlin to manipulate historical memory and draw pseudo-analogies,” claims Ukrainian Center for Combating Disinformation.
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.
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.