Russian Media in Germany

Find out how Russian information warfare and disinformation have affected Germany in the analysis by Dr Susanne Spahn.  Download below the publication in English. 

Russian Media in Germany

The conflict over Ukraine is the reason for Russia's global media offensive. Moscow considers the post-Soviet space as its exclusive sphere of influence and tries to prevent Ukraine's rapprochement with the EU. This “integration competition” with the EU fuels the Russian leadership’s perception that this is a new Cold War with the West. Their media offensive is a part of their concept of information warfare as a component of hybrid warfare. Documents from the activities of two high-ranking presidential representatives, Surkov and Gromov, show that this global media campaign is centrally organized and controlled by Moscow.

In Germany, RT Deutsch, Sputnik with SNA-Radio, Ruptly, and the new internet companies Maffick Media and Redfish work to create a negative view in the society of the German media, which in their point of view are manipulated. As they do this, they present themselves as an independent alternative. But this does not correspond to the facts: these media are financed from the Russian state budget and are administratively integrated into the media network controlled by the Kremlin. They are Kremlin loudspeakers and spread its positions and narratives.

Reporting on Ukraine shows – documented here by the Sea of Azov conflict – that Russia is diverting public attention away from its aggressive foreign policy by presenting itself as a victim. However, Moscow not only wants the prerogative to interpret controversial issues, but also to actively influence politics. Examples are the Bundestag elections in 2017, the Bavarian elections in 2018, and the European Parliament elections in 2019 which show biased coverage and the use of fake news. Alleged opponents such as Chancellor Merkel and European institutions are presented only in a negative light, while pro-Russian parties on the left and right ends of the political spectrum are presented only in a positive light. In particular, with regard to the Alternative for Germany, it should be noted that the agenda of right-wing populists and the content of RT and Sputnik are very interlinked. This was confirmed by British researchers from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue in their report on the EU elections: RT and Sputnik serve as a de facto content factory for right-wing populist parties by creating a constant stream of content that these parties use in their campaigns".

Members of the parties Alternative for Germany and The Left (Die Linke) are a favourite topic for reporting by RT and Sputnik, especially when they travel to crisis areas where, by means of "alternative" election observation, they legitimize Russian foreign policy. These politicians, for their part, are trying to attract voters by using the Russian agenda. These German MPs are happy to help Moscow when it comes to destabilising Europe and expanding Russian power.

Large sections of society are either unaware of the problem or believe that Russian disinformation is not a problem for Germany. For many, the fact that Russia is waging an information war seems too absurd to be true. Sceptics should be encouraged to read speeches by Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov and the military historian Anatoly Streltsov, which are also available in German and English. The statements by the Editors-in-Chief of RT Margarita Simonyan and Ivan Rodonov, the former head of the office of Rossiya Segodnya – Dmitry Tultschin, and the CEO of Rossiya Segodnya – Dmitrii Kiselyov are also available mainly in German or English. The Dekoder platform can translate Russian media content. A look at the report on Disinformation Review, published by the European East StratCom Task Force or the Stop Fake page of the Mohyla Akademie in Kyiv183, helps one understand that Germany is not an isolated case, just another showplace of disinformation that Russia is spreading around the world – however one that is quite important.

Publicly, the federal government hardly speaks about the problem of hybrid warfare, although the 2015 Bundestag and the 2018 Federal Ministries "almost certainly" have been the victims of cyberattacks by Russia's GRU secret services. In May 2020, an arrest warrant was issued for a Russian hacker who allegedly attacked the Bundestag's IT system on behalf of the GRU. Communication by some members of the government with the Russian state media has also been called into question. For example, SPD ministers, such as former Foreign Minister Siegmar Gabriel and former Minister of Justice Katarina Barley, gave exclusive interviews to RT Deutsch before the election, legitimizing RT as a journalistic media. In contrast, French President Macron clearly defined RT and Sputnik in 2017 as "agents of influence" who spread untruths.

The number of users of RT Deutsch and the social media platform In the Now show that their audiences are growing rapidly, surpassing some traditional online media. Also, for the Internet Research Agency (the "Troll Factory"), Germany is one of its most important targets. The Russian narrative is consumed daily by thousands of users in Germany. The above examples of biased and sometimes false media coverage prove that the Russian media serve as a weapon in an information war.


About the Author: 

Susanne Spahn (PhD) is a political scientist, historian and journalist based in Berlin. She completed her M.A. degree in East European history, Slavonic studies and political science in St. Petersburg and Cologne. In 2011, she received her doctoral degree with a thesis, published as a book, on Staatliche Unabhängigkeit — das Ende der ostslawischen Gemeinschaft? Die Außenpolitik Russlands gegenüber der Ukraine und Belarus seit 1991. Hamburg 2011(State Independence: The End of the East Slavonic Unity? Russia’s Foreign Policy towards Ukraine and Belarus Since 1991). In 2010 and 2011, working in Moscow, she was a contributor to Dow Jones News, Die Welt, Deutsche Welle, Zeit online, and Magazin Außenwirtschaft. Her research interests are Russia’s foreign policy in the post-Soviet area, Russian information policy, and the Russian-speaking community in Germany