What is information war

Russia and Germany

The experiences of the "dirty" election campaign and the outcome of the most recent presidential election in the USA have also left their mark on Germany: On the one hand, "fake news" has become a household word for targeted disinformation. On the other hand, with a view to the upcoming federal elections, concerns about influence from abroad have grown - especially after US intelligence services publicly accused Russian President Vladimir Putin in January 2017 of attempting to win the US election in his by means of a campaign and hacker attacks Affect the senses. Immediately, many politicians in Berlin also seemed to be concerned with the question of whether corresponding hacks, leaks and false reports could also manipulate German voters. The Moscow leadership is suspected of wanting to destabilize the European Union as a whole and to pursue nationally adapted strategies for this in the individual member states.

Grown distrust

In the spring of 2016, Chancellor Angela Merkel asked the German secret services to find out whether Moscow was interfering in German politics, deliberately disseminating false information and, at the same time, spying out state secrets. [1] The reason for this request was the "Lisa case", which has been making waves as a German-Russian political issue since January 2016. [2] At that time, the Russian state media played up an alleged rape case in Berlin, which has demonstrably never happened. A young woman who, as a repatriate, has German and Russian citizenship, had claimed that she had been sexually abused by "southerners", which turned out to be a lie a little later. Despite police investigations that very quickly put the case in a completely different light, the Russian state media stuck to the rape allegation and the scandal in their reporting.

Across Germany, several hundred Russian-German repatriates took to the streets to protest against the alleged rape, and around 700 demonstrated in front of the Federal Chancellery. When Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke of "our girl Lisa" at a press conference and accused the German authorities of covering up, a scandal broke out. The federal government was convinced that a conscious mood should be raised against Merkel and the refugee policy. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier forbade interfering in the internal affairs of the Federal Republic and accused Russia of "political propaganda" in order to "fuel an already difficult internal German migration debate (...)". [3]

Unfortunately, there is still no independent study on the "Lisa case" that would have examined it conclusively. Therefore, the question remains open for the time being whether it was primarily a media phenomenon or actually an orchestrated action by the Russian government, as many voices claim. The unresolved case, however, nourishes a basic distrust of Moscow, which further worsens German-Russian relations - which have already been heavily strained since the annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine.

In fact, there have been some indications in the past few years that Moscow is trying to use a variety of instruments to exert influence in Germany or to create uncertainty. In May 2015, a first, serious hacker attack on the German Bundestag became known, which apparently was months ago and sparked a discussion about whether a foreign secret service could be responsible for it. In the summer of 2016 there was another cyber attack in which German politicians and their employees were the target of emails with spy software. The Eastern Europe expert and Bundestag member of Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen, Marieluise Beck, had already been the target of a hacker attack in February 2014, in which after two years of investigation there were finally some indications that hackers might have been working on behalf of the Russian state. The traces of the respective attacks all seemed to lead to the hacker group "APT28", which allegedly operates under Moscow leadership. [4]

In November 2016, the head of the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), Bruno Kahl, warned of Russian disruptive campaigns and hacker attacks, "which have no other purpose than to cause political uncertainty". Shortly afterwards, security experts also declared in the Bundestag that Russia wanted to "undermine" the unity of the West and divide German society. The Russian-speaking citizens living in Germany should be "incited against the German state," said the head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Hans-Georg Maaßen. The experts identified the Foreign Policy Directorate of the Russian Presidential Office as responsible. [5] Since then, there has been great concern in political Berlin that information stolen from cyber attacks in the federal election campaign could be used in a compromising or misleading way. Similar to the US election campaign, when the publication of hacked emails from Hillary Clinton harmed her campaign as a Democratic candidate, materials leaked during the federal election campaign could also contribute to deliberately damaging parties or politicians, so the fear. In December 2016, secret Bundestag files from the NSA investigative committee, allegedly from the cyber attack in spring 2015, had already emerged on the Wikileaks disclosure platform. [6]

In view of such threat analyzes, however, it remains incomprehensible why no further steps have been taken to close the known security gaps. According to information from NDR and "Süddeutscher Zeitung", a current secret report shows that the IT infrastructure of the German Bundestag is still not adequately secured against hackers. The more than 100-page analysis, which was commissioned by the Bundestag administration, lists numerous deficiencies that should make it easier for hackers to break into the parliamentary network again. [7]

Russia's media instruments

The most visible instruments of Russian state propaganda in Germany are the German-language media offerings "RT Deutsch" and "Sputnik Deutschland" as well as the newspaper supplement "Russia Beyond the Headlines" designed as a PR publication, all of which are state-funded from Moscow. [8] Their appearance on the German market from 2013 was part of a media offensive by the Kremlin, which was part of a new Soft powerStrategy was actually aimed at improving Russia's image internationally and promoting the Russian government's view of certain events in the world. [9]

While the Russian foreign broadcaster RT has invested a lot of money in the USA, Great Britain and also in countries in South America and is present with a television offering, "RT Deutsch" is a niche online portal on the German media market. The video journal "The Missing Part", which was originally broadcast daily, has long since been reduced to a weekly offer. The news program, which is more reminiscent of "Trash TV", suffered from a lack of quality and an obviously one-sided orientation from the start. Shortly after the start of the program in November 2014, the editor-in-chief, Iwan Rodionow, confidently announced to the online magazine "Telepolis": "I see RT Deutsch in a year as a recognized place where you can get information as an alternative to the mainstream. "[10]" RT Deutsch "is far from this claim today. This was largely due to broad media coverage, which the Russian portal has been critical of from the start and which has exposed the journalistically questionable methods.

"RT Deutsch" reaches its audience primarily through social media channels. The number of hits has risen sharply in recent years: While the portal hardly played a role on Twitter in the summer of 2016 with around 13,700 followers, this value has more than doubled within a year. The number of Facebook friends is now around 267,000 (197600 in June 2016), [11] so that more Germans seem to use this offer on Facebook than, for example, the Facebook presence of Deutschlandfunk, which only counts around 156,200 "likes" . "It only serves a niche audience, but because the content is shared on social media, there is a certain effect that is difficult to measure," says Russia expert Stefan Meister from the German Society for Foreign Policy (DGAP) in Berlin. [12] He observes that Russian sources such as the foreign media are cited more frequently in certain milieus and that a certain Russian narrative is thus spread more widely. As an example, he cites networks interested in Russia and sympathizers of the peace movement, who showed that "RT Deutsch" not only appeals to supporters of conspiracy theories, but also to a wider circle.

The more seriously designed online service "Sputnik Deutschland" is less successful on Facebook and Twitter: It has around 14,200 followers on Twitter and 186,000 Facebook friends, although it has been on the market longer than "RT Deutsch" - albeit at the beginning under the traditional brand of the international broadcaster "Voice of Russia". As a full program, the radio program can only be heard on the website. Regional private broadcasters have taken over a few hours of the program, but the range is limited. Nevertheless, "Sputnik Germany" occasionally manages to win over prominent politicians for interviews - for example, neither the long-time CDU member of the Bundestag, Wolfgang Bosbach, nor the SPD general secretary Katarina Barley shied away from contact. [13] However, "Sputnik Deutschland" has since had to give up the office located directly at the Brandenburg Gate and has moved a few streets further to a floor of the "Russian House", which serves as a cultural center.

The monthly supplement "Russia Beyond the Headlines" that accompanies the business newspaper "Handelsblatt" has become firmly established. It is produced by a Moscow editorial team, is mainly devoted to economic issues and is also financed from the Russian state budget. The target group of the PR publication and the associated website are primarily German business people. The forerunner product "Russia Today" had reached far more German readers as a supplement to the "Süddeutsche Zeitung". However, due to the annexation of Crimea, Süddeutsche Verlag terminated its cooperation in March 2014.

Above all, "RT Deutsch" aims in its contributions to paint a gloomy picture of German society and to distort facts. "It is also noticeable that the AfD and the Left Party are over-represented in the reporting," said Meister. This is also due to the fact that "RT Deutsch" has such a bad reputation as a Russian propaganda tool that politicians from other parties avoid contact. Only SPD politician Matthias Platzeck, as chairman of the German-Russian Forum, chatted with Rodionow in February 2017 about Martin Schulz's chances in the federal election and German-Russian relations, as if it were a serious medium, for which he received some criticism. [14] As for all media, the freedom of opinion and press guaranteed by the Basic Law also applies to Russian media in Germany, as long as their content does not become criminally relevant. As a member of the Association of the Foreign Press, RT representatives can also visit the Federal Press Conference and ask questions to the government spokesman there.