University of Chicago

The Suspected Role of Russian Money in German Democratic Erosion by Shiva Kangeyan

The general consensus is that Russia is at present an illiberal democracy. What is also at present occurring is a wave of right-wing populism and democratic erosion in Western Europe in the US. I believe there is an aim by Russia to act in such a manner that exposes/takes advantage of the inadequacies of current democratic institutions across the West in order to undermine democracy as an ideal and the current international order. This is not meant to engage with the larger Cold War history of both the US and USSR in effecting governmental change/backing certain candidates but to look specifically at actions carried out/suspected to have been carried out in much more recent times. The very nature of this sort of support does entail humoring some reasoned conjecture since not all the connections are easily traceable. Very rarely is it as simple as a suitcase of rubles delivered to a party’s headquarters. Usually, there will be cutouts, go-betweens, clandestine meetings, cover organizations, and a litany of other tradecraft measures to conceal such connections. There is also the possibility of paranoia and seeing something when there is in fact nothing. However, there have been some documented connections which will be explored further below in the case of Germany.

The prominent Russian vehicle for political machination within Germany is the AfD (Alternative for Germany) party. They are a far right populist party whose salient issues are immigration/refugees. Their main reason for existence effectively began as a platform for the opposition to Angela Merkel’s existing refugee policy. They display traits common to other far right movements across Europe in that they tend to espouse “conventional” families and are not LGBTQ friendly. Their support is predominantly in areas that were once part of the former GDR. People within the organization are fairly open about their desire for/existing use of Russian money but such links are never corroborated by the Russians. The ostensible presentation of such connections is explained (by AfD apparatchiks) as occurring due to shared ideas and goals for their own respective countries. Much of the European far right also rejects the idea that any form of hostility to Russia is warranted/justified and they tend to support Russia on issues like the annexation of the Crimea and the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. However, the unofficial Russian support is something that also occurs and is the more insidious of the two categories of support. One such example was that of a new story in which a 13 year old girl was ostensibly raped by 3 people identified as refugees from the Middle East. The purported victim was of Russian descent and several Russian officials made statements to the effect of saying that the Germans were sweeping this particular crime under the rug since it was “politically correct” to do so. Subsequent investigation revealed all of the above to be false and incorrect and that the girl had lied and that the story was propagated as a means of disinformation. The AfD was also involved in another case which contains element of what the former KGB used to call “active measures”, which was an umbrella term for political warfare ranging from disinformation to assassination. Documents were unearthed by an organization called the Dossier Centre which tracks Russian influence on politicians worldwide. An AfD member of the Bundestag (Markus Frohnmaier) was named in some such documents as a candidate to be supported with the expectation that he would be almost fully Russian-controlled upon election. It is unclear whether this would be as a willing participant or as someone being manipulated.

While this post looks at certain examples of Russian influence in Germany, there are a litany of other cases in countries such as France, Serbia, Austria, and Hungary. There is both overt and covert Russian influence that is fairly well documented and the unstated goal of these seems to be destabilization of organizations such as the EU and NATO and the Russians have seemed to have found a relatively low cost high return on investment method of doing so by bankrolling certain candidates and movements and spreading mass disinformation.

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