Russia’s Propaganda War on Germany

March 30, 2016 --

Europe, Germany, Russia

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Russia’s propaganda war on Germany and the West

Sputnik News, a Russian, international, multimedia news agency operating out of Moscow, published an article in Germany on March 5, 2016 about a German street artist in Dortmund who was forced to take down a painting that was considered “insensitive” to the ethnic groups in the area[1]. Sputnik News called these actions “censorship” and juxtaposed freedom of expression against cultural sensitivity. The article is an attempt to show the German government as paradoxical by defending foreigners over its own citizens’ liberties.

Russian news sources, specifically Russian Times and Sputnik News, have been publishing articles critical of Western governments for years with a large uptick during the Euromaiden Revolution in 2014[2]. The Kremlin has dedicated significant resources to this weaponized journalism in order to print stories which discredit Western government officials and policies.

There are three visible objectives with Russia’s propaganda war:

  1. Sow distrust between the German people and the government by portraying the leaders as not having the German people’s interests in mind.
  2. Rile and support far-right wing political groups into aggressive political action[3] in order to polarize the political forum into extreme left and extreme right ideologies
  3. Disorient government officials and citizens by publishing misinformation and rumors to fuel the contention and increase paranoia of “cover-ups.”

By accomplishing these objectives, Russia undermines the West, which it sees as vital to protecting its interests. Russia also hopes to expand its influence over former Soviet satellite states by appearing stronger than Western European who, according to the Russian narrative, has been infiltrated by dangerous foreigners and cannot guarantee their own citizens’ safety.[4] Additionally, if Russia can splinter EU relations, it has a better chance of recovering from slow economic times by doing business with individual European countries instead of a united front.

The current refugee crisis is a windfall for the Russian propagandists. It gives them scenarios, such as the street artist’s, that could show the government siding with refugee welfare over German welfare. This will then rile nationalist sentiment, stoking far-right wing activism. In turn, leftist parties counterattack with stronger numbers, which ultimately threatens President Merkel’s center-right coalition. In the heat of contention, Russian journalists or social media “trolls” can spread snippets of misinformation which are either taken at face value and fan the flames or force the German government to launch costly investigations and bolster conspiracy theories.

This concerns the US as destabilization in Germany impacts access to interests in surrounding regions, its military bases, and future NATO involvement. In terms of diplomacy, Russian propagandists can capitalize on the distrust between US and Germany, especially after the Snowden leaks. It also sheds light on the tactics Russia might deploy in the US, in hopes of hijacking public discourse and waging a similar propaganda war.

[1] Sorokina, Anna. “Dortmund: Arabische Jugendliche Reagieren „eklatant.” Sputnik News. March 5, 2016. Accessed March 05, 2016. http://de.sputniknews.com/gesellschaft/20160305/308280311/dortmund-maler-entfernt-gemaelde-wegen-arabischen-besuchern.html.

[2] “The Hybrid War: Russia’s Propaganda Campaign Against Germany – SPIEGEL ONLINE.” SPIEGEL ONLINE. February 5, 2016. Accessed March 05, 2016. http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/putin-wages-hybrid-war-on-germany-and-west-a-1075483.html.

[3] Spiegel, 2016.

[4] Spiegel, 2016.

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