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Germany 'main target' of Russian disinformation

  • EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell (l) with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov (r) in February in Moscow (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

"No other EU member state is attacked more fiercely through disinformation than Germany," the EU's disinformation watchdog on Russian disinformation campaigns said on Tuesday (9 March) in a report.

EUvsDisinfo, which is run by the EU's foreign service, has documented 700 cases in which fake or misleading reporting targeted Germany, since the launch of the database in late 2015.

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In comparison, France was a target over 300 times, Italy in some 170 cases and Spain in around 40 cases, according to the report.

Moscow-EU relations have hit new lows in recent weeks, over the poisoning and imprisonment of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.

Relations soured even further after the Kremlin humiliated EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell in Moscow, as Russia expelled diplomats from Germany, Poland, and Sweden during the visit.

Berlin has argued for keeping the dialogue open with Moscow and pushed for cooperation with the Kremlin on common interests.

Despite criticism from the EU and the US, Germany also pushed ahead with its Nord Stream 2 pipeline which will carry gas to Europe from Russia via Germany.

"The Kremlin is creating a mental image of a Germany, where a few sane voices are heard among a chorus of irrational 'Russophobia'," the report said.

Germany advocated for sanctions on Russia over Navalny's case, who received medical treatment in Berlin after being poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent last year.

The Kremlin is assumed to be behind the attack, which Moscow denies. Navalny was arrested after returning to Russia. The EU agreed to sanction four senior Russian officials over the Navalny case.

Those came on top of already existing economic sanctions on Russia over the annexation of Crimea and the Moscow's support of armed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Russia is describing Germany as key in driving the new sanctions which had been agreed by EU governments after Borrell's Moscow trip.

"[Russia] intends to create uncertainty, sow discord; give Russian officials room for manoeuvre. Germany can be played against other EU member states, against the EU itself, against other countries…," the report said.

"Germany is singled out as the main target for Russian disinformation efforts among European member states," it added.

One of the stories cited in the report is of a Russian family in Berlin whose three children were taken by the authorities because their well-being had been endangered.

Russian media and politicians used the story to accuse authorities of systematically suppressing Russians in Germany, according to the report.

Stories like this are often not distributed in the German-language versions of Russian media, the report said.

It also noted that the "Kremlin doublespeak exploits Europe's, and Germany's, commitment to dialogue, permanently repeating readiness for talks".

German foreign minister Heiko Maas suggested on Tuesday that a "positive agenda" would be the way to counter disinformation from Russia, Germany press service DPA reported.

Maas said the findings of the EU report are "not surprising," adding that developing ties between civil society in Germany and Russia would also help make sure false information about Germany fell on deaf ears.

The EU's external service analyses publicly available media reports and statements on its EUvsDisinfo website.

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