Russia having success in hybrid war against Germany

February 7, 2016
Supporters of anti-immigration right-wing movement PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) take part in in demonstration march, in reaction to mass assaults on women on New Year's Eve, in Cologne, Germany, January 9, 2016.     REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY   - RTX21N3D

Supporters of anti-immigration right-wing movement PEGIDA take part in a demonstration march, in reaction to mass assaults on women on New Year’s Eve, in Cologne, Germany, January 9, 2016. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

The attack came in the form of a Saturday evening newscast from Moscow. It would take days before the German government realized what was happening, but by that time the damage was already done. Germany’s sizable Russian-speaking community –made up of migrants from the former Soviet Union — was up in arms about a report that refugees from the Middle East had gang-raped a 13-year-old Russian girl in Berlin — and that the local police was covering up the crime.

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Until recently, Germany had largely been spared the wrath of Russia’s state propaganda machine. Germans, in their eagerness to be conscientious world citizens and reliable business partners, were seen in the Kremlin as allies to coddle and co-opt. That view changed abruptly in 2014, when Angela Merkel led the drive for European Union sanctions to punish Russia for its war against Ukraine. Now, as the German chancellor flounders domestically because of her open-door refugee policy, she has made herself vulnerable to attack. “I’ve never seen so much glee from the Russians as during Germany’s refugee crisis,” said a diplomat in Berlin.

On Jan. 16, Russia’s state-run Channel One led the 9 o’clock evening news with a shocking report from Berlin. “Evidence has emerged that migrants in Germany have started raping children,” presenter Yekaterina Andreyeva said in the intro. That evidence came in the form of testimony by the “Aunt Marina” of a teenage girl, identified as Lisa, who claimed she had been abducted on her way to school and raped by migrants for more than a day. More proof that Germany is going to hell in a hand basket was a blurry video of a supposed recent arrival who bragged about raping a “virgin” with five other men. (Germany’s Bild newspaper later reported that the video had appeared on YouTube more than six years ago.)

Lisa’s relatives told Channel One that the police was refusing to find the perpetrators. The Berlin police was unavailable for comment over the weekend. Frightened neighbors, mostly members of the Russian diaspora in Germany, gathered for a “spontaneous” protest in the Marzahn district in eastern Berlin, Channel One reported. One woman tearfully recounted how her 14-year-old child was terrified of passing a refugee shelter on the way to school. It later turned out that the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party had organized the protest.

Coming just weeks after widespread sexual assaults by migrants in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, Lisa’s story was incendiary — and spread like wildfire through social media. The Berlin police finally addressed the case in a press release posted on Facebook. While the girl had indeed been reported as missing, the police said, she had not been abducted or raped.

Yet to those who believe that German authorities have lost control over the country, the police statement sounded like a cover-up. The following weekend, Russian speakers held rallies across Germany. In Berlin, 700 protesters, backed by the anti-Islam movement PEGIDA, gathered in front of the Federal Chancery holding smiley-face balloons with their mouths taped over and signs reading “Our children are in danger.”

What should have been a case for family counselors and detectives blew up into a diplomatic scandal. As Lisa holds both German and Russian citizenship, the Kremlin entered the fray. In late January the Russian embassy in Berlin sent an “aggressive” protest note to the German Foreign Office demanding a full investigation, according to Der Spiegel. Then Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov brought up “our girl Lisa” in his annual press conference in Moscow. “I really hope that the migration problems won’t lead to an attempt to whitewash reality with political correctness for domestic political reasons,” Lavrov said. “That wouldn’t be right.”

The German government could no longer ignore that it was the target of a full-on propaganda attack, including very public trolling by the Russian foreign minister. Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, denounced the “political instrumentalization” of the case. Even Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s foreign minister who never tires of “dialogue” with the Kremlin, lost his patience, saying there was no justification for using a 13-year-old girl for “political propaganda.”

In the meantime, the Berlin police were getting to the bottom of what happened to Lisa in the 30 hours she had gone missing. Her accounts of the supposed kidnapping were contradictory, and a medical examination showed that she had been neither raped nor beaten. The trail finally led to the apartment of a 19-year-old German acquaintance, where Lisa had temporarily hidden from her parents because of problems at school. What confused the story was the discovery by investigators that long before her disappearance, the girl had in fact had sexual contact with two men, both of Turkish origin, and neither a refugee. State prosecutors have since opened an investigation into child molestation.

The truth doesn’t matter, because it’s already mission accomplished for the Kremlin. By mentioning the case of Lisa publicly, Lavrov pulled off a common trick in Russia’s self-declared “information war” against its enemies: a government official picks up on a report in state media, leading to its legitimation and further dissemination. Fake news is essentially laundered and enters the public consciousness as fact.

Two years ago, it was hard for people in the West to imagine how Russian state media used half-truths and blatant lies to distort the pro-EU Maidan protest in Kiev into a fascist conspiracy. When Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, fled to Russia and a provisional government took power, the Kremlin news channels spread reports of armed gangs of Ukrainian nationalists terrorizing Russian speakers in southeastern Ukraine. Having been inculcated for months about the threat of Ukrainian revanchism, large parts of the Russian-speaking population were genuinely scared — and supported an intervention by Russia on their behalf. Viewers at home and abroad had been well primed for the coming conflict. The news was fake; the fear was real.

As shown on Russian state TV, the hysteria among Germany’s Russian speakers toward refugees was identical to the panic of Ukraine’s Russian speakers about fascist gangs. The main message of the inflammatory reports from Berlin was that Merkel was finished, Germany was on the decline, and Western liberal democracies were undoing themselves via foolhardy multiculturalism and misplaced tolerance.

It’s no small irony that the principal actors in this apocalyptic view of Europe’s refugee crisis are former migrants themselves. After reunification in 1990, Germany opened its borders to migrants from the former Soviet Union: more than 2 million ethnic Germans and some 215,000 Jews, according to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees. Integration into German society was not always successful, however, and much of the older generation still gets its news from Russia thanks to satellite channels and the Internet.

For TV viewers in Russia, the plight of Russian speakers in Germany — allegedly victimized by refugees and ignored by the police — fits into the larger narrative of “compatriots” in neighboring countries who are subjected to discrimination and violence. Half a million of these “Russian Germans” are ready to move back to Russia because of the flood of refugees, state news agency RIA Novosti reported last week, citing the leader of an obscure Russian immigrant party in Germany.

Stoking outrage in Germany’s Russian-speaking community is not an end in itself, but a means to exploiting cracks in German society exposed by the refugee crisis. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who served as a KGB agent in Soviet-occupied East Germany and speaks fluent German, believes that Berlin and Moscow can form a strategic axis based on Russian natural resources and German technology. Merkel, in her insistence that Russia do more to bring peace to Ukraine, is getting in the way.

In March 2014, Putin appealed directly to Germans for their support, drawing parallels between the annexation of Crimea and German reunification. Winning over German public opinion became a priority, and the state-owned network RT, formerly known as Russia Today, opened a German channel, RT Deutsch, later that year. The Kremlin was exploiting a growing distrust among Germans toward traditional news outlets, expressed in the far-right PEGIDA protests. A poll conducted in October found that 44 percent of Germans agreed with PEGIDA that mainstream media distorted the news to suit the elites.

Propaganda was only one element in the so-called “hybrid warfare” that Russia directed against Ukraine. Long before the Kremlin deployed “little green men” — Russian troops without insignia — to Crimea, it had used other non-military measures such as playing pipeline politics, buying politicians, and backing fringe parties with radical agendas. Those same measures are being used in Germany and other European countries.

Contrarians on the left and right are enthusiastic about the support from Moscow.

Alexej Dankwardt, a Leipzig city councilman, was kicked out of the Left Party caucus last month after writing on Facebook that he wished Merkel would be toppled in a “German Maidan” and forced to “sprint half-naked to save herself from the angry masses.” Dankwardt, who represents Lisa and her family as a lawyer, has become a frequent commentator on Russian state TV.

In a November 2014 meeting with Alexander Gauland, one of the founders of the far-right Alternative for Germany, Russian diplomats offered “strategic advice” to the upstart, euroskeptic party. Last March, Udo Voigt, a leader of the National Democratic Party, attended a gathering of European rightwing extremist parties in St. Petersburg.

The standard Kremlin response to charges that it’s waging a hybrid war against Europe is that Russia is simply defending itself against similar methods employed by Western powers. In a speech to Russia’s Academy of Military Sciences in January 2013, Chief-of-Staff Valery Gerasimov complained that Russian knowledge of asymmetric warfare was “superficial.” The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the United States in particular, had demonstrated their mastery of non-military campaigns in the Arab Spring and Ukraine’s pro-Western Orange Revolution in 2004, Gerasimov said.

Such modesty is disingenuous. Disinformation and subversion as weapons of war are as old as catapults and cavalry. The Kremlin’s advantage in the information age is that all of Russia’s major media outlets are under its control, allowing it to hammer its audience with one, unified message. The Kremlin claim that it’s in an “information war” with the West implies that there is vast conspiracy among myriad media in the United States and Europe, public and private, to produce the same lies about Russia.

In fact, Western diplomats are at a loss about how to counter the effects of Kremlin propaganda on Russian speakers in EU countries. In March, the European Union established the East StratCom Task Force “to address Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaigns.” Despite its important-sounding name, the bureaucratic unit has no budget, 10 employees, and barely 4,000 Twitter followers.

A year ago, Germany’s domestic intelligence service warned that Russia was widening its espionage activity in Europe with the goal of destabilizing its neighbors and influencing decision-makers. A cyber-attack on the main server of the German parliament last spring has since been traced back to Russian military intelligence, Der Spiegel reported, quoting a high-ranking security official. There have reportedly been similar attacks on other NATO states and German arms companies.

A legion of useful idiots is ready to do the Kremlin’s bidding. Horst Seehofer, the head of Merkel’s Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union, has been haranguing the chancellor for months to tighten her refugee policy. On Wednesday, Seehofer met Putin outside Moscow, where the Bavarian premier expressed his hope that sanctions against Russia would soon be lifted.

Afterwards, Seehofer told journalists it was “classy” of Putin to say he wouldn’t meddle in Germany’s refugee policy. Meanwhile, the Rossiya TV channel trumpeted the “commotion” that the visit had caused back in Berlin.

CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Russians living in Germany as refugees. Migrant is a more accurate term.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to RT. It is not part of Rossiya Segodnya


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

Reuters censors, do you have shame? A “consentual” sex with a 13 years old is a statutory rape, and by blocking this comment you are participating in the cover up along with the German officials who claimed that there has been no rape at all.

Posted by BraveNewWrld | Report as abusive

Russia – the new Nazi Germany.

Posted by MustangWanted | Report as abusive

This article is complete non-sense…loaded with literally useless drivel in an effort to skirt around the real issue. Bottom line is the government of the relatively small country of Germany is letting migrants in by the millions…literally changing the face of the country. I wouldn’t trust that government. It is certainly not a government you could ever depend on let alone trust to preserve the German culture.

Russia on the other hand….is the only country (white country I should add) that doesn’t do this. So OF COURSE the Germans may choose to side with them, which is why Russia takes the time to appeal to them. And the west wants to bomb the only white country(of any size importance)off the earth…go figure

Posted by russia14 | Report as abusive

“When Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, fled to Russia and a provisional government took power, the Kremlin news channels spread reports of armed gangs of Ukrainian nationalists terrorizing Russian speakers in southeastern Ukraine.”
The author deliberately distorts the details of the “dignity revolution”. Ambassadors of the Western European countries have insisted on the signing of an agreement between the leaders of the Maidan, and the president of Ukraine on joint actions to eliminate the causes of the crisis. Ambassadors assured that opponents will act within the framework of the Constitution. Believing ambassadors and leaders of the Maidan, the President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych left the capital of Ukraine. In the “Day X”, he served as presidential duties in Kharkov: consulted with the governors of the south-eastern provinces, was not planning to flee to Russia. On this day, he learned that the Independence leaders have violated agreed, to remove him from power, grossly violated the procedure of impeachment. He stated this in an interview from Kharkov, accusing the ambassadors of Western European countries in support of the illegal actions of militants. The new leaders of the country decided to arrest Yanukovych. To this end, the new Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine went to the pursuit of Yanukovych. Fleeing persecution, Yanukovych left for Russia. The first law, which took the criminals who illegally seized power, was directed against the use of the Russian language in Ukraine.

Posted by sengiley | Report as abusive

Russia is bad, mkay?
Shitty article is shitty.

Posted by TocTeplv | Report as abusive

Why is this author continuously allowed to post such blatant anti Russian articles?

Posted by TheTruth01 | Report as abusive

In response to a previous comment, there is no “statutory rape” in Germany nor in most modern European criminal systems. If both partners are older than the age of consent, sex is considered consensual.
Even if there is a large gap between participants’ ages, a complaint must be filed in order to prosecute the older party.
In any event, the central message of this story remains: Russia is using misinformation, half-truths and distorted news reports -regardless of European law- to spread a worldview that suits Russian interests.

Posted by JARdguez | Report as abusive

How do you know Russians are lying? Easy, they are speaking.

Posted by MEOilMan | Report as abusive

Love the corrections at the bottom

Posted by Moties001 | Report as abusive

Russian minorities want to be represented!??!?!? Must be Russian propaganda!

Posted by JohnCT | Report as abusive

What exactly does Russia have to gain from this? Having in mind the close relations between Putin and al Assad.Is Putin bluffing in regards to the potential cooperation with Germany (Germany bringing the logistics and technology to the table and Russia the resources)? Is Putin fearing China or to be more exact, does Putin fear China’s economical rise?

Posted by FraIgn | Report as abusive

)) LoL ) Russia is at war with Germany ! Now i know the truth ! Thank you, Reuters )))

Posted by lokitash | Report as abusive

This article is at least 10-15 years late. Just one word: Schröder.

Posted by UauS | Report as abusive

It would be a shame if advanced Western arms started getting into the hands of Chechen separatists.

Posted by Gaius_Baltar | Report as abusive

Another ‘Putin is the cause of all the world’s ills’ article.
This is getting really old.
Are you jealous of how much Putin has been able to achieve?

Posted by No_apartheid | Report as abusive

Russian leaders: Corrupt autocratic goons.
Russian expatriates: Useful idiots for Russia, useless source of trouble for the rest of the world.

Posted by JayTee44 | Report as abusive

Russian leaders: Corrupt new fascist elites
Russian expatriates: Useful trolls for Russia, source of trouble for the rest of the world.

Posted by sam841 | Report as abusive

Never trust Putin and his Evil Russian propaganda.

Posted by Svaboda | Report as abusive

The idea of painting the western press as a guileless set of unsophisticates is a bit disingenuous. One of the reasons the anti-russian, pro-western propaganda task force hasn’t been a big splash might be the message is oversold, likely due to the effects of some unimaginative headline editors around the globe.

But I believe there are more critical aspects of the MENA refugee crisis that aren’t part of this conversation.

Posted by Laster | Report as abusive

Please, have some decency! Only having no shame can one claim “no rape” in the case of a sex with minor under the legal age of consent, as was the case with the 13-years-old girl in Germany. Think of your own daughter, sister – would you be saying something like that if your close relative would be a victim?

Here is some info for uninformed.

The Age of Consent in Germany is 14 years old. The age of consent is the minimum age at which an individual is considered legally old enough to consent to participation in sexual activity. Individuals aged 13 or younger in Germany are not legally able to consent to sexual activity, and such activity may result in prosecution for statutory rape or the equivalent local law.

Posted by BraveNewWrld | Report as abusive

If the Western press is always as clumsy as the author of this article, then may be he has a point.

Posted by DDL | Report as abusive

If the author is representative of Western press in his shoddy reporting, then may be he has a point.

Posted by DDL | Report as abusive

Putin is an angry fellow

Posted by UmbertVohiden | Report as abusive

Sound to me like its time to implement the RAND Corp. Study and rotate US tank battalions in the Baltic. Sign Ukraine and Georgia up for NATO. Station short range nukes there. Get the darned missile defense system in Poland up-and-running. Let Sultan Erdogan start a hot war with Russia in Syria.

Posted by upstater | Report as abusive

It really hard to live in country situated between Russia and Germany.

Posted by maja-ja | Report as abusive

Its not propaganda if its true. Reuter morons.

Posted by GarrettF | Report as abusive

Well at least if I want to visit the middle east all I only have to travel to Europe! LOL!!!

Posted by GarrettF | Report as abusive

this whole writing is stinking bologna

Posted by duck101 | Report as abusive

Wahhabi Islam, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are far worse enemies of Europe than Russia. Far worse.

Posted by Rince | Report as abusive

Putin’s tactics bring to mind those used by Germany prior to the outbreak of WWII. The Nazis would use their total control over the German media to provoke division within their target countries.

Posted by doctordave77 | Report as abusive

Putin (or Putler) is Joseph Goebbels’ best student.

Posted by Ilya_Kiev | Report as abusive