Blow to Russia’s intelligence capabilities in Germany forces Moscow to focus on psychological operations

The Kremlin’s ability to influence politics in Germany seems to be at the same level as that of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party.This is indicated by a dramatic decline in the participation of other political movements in any pro-Russia events. A leak that emerged in September 2022 claimed that some MPs from Saxony-Anhalt and North Rhine-Westphalia representing the AfD were going to visit Russia-occupied Donbas on September 20–28, under the auspices of the Russian military intelligence that coordinates the work with the AfD.

On February 1, 2023, the local branch of the AfD in Erfurt, Germany, held a rally in front of Thuringia’s Landtag to demand that no more weapons be sent to Ukraine.

According to information received from sources in the Kremlin, Putin’s administration is disgruntled with the performance of its assets in Germany.

The fact that Russia has suffered a blow to its intelligence networks in Western Europe limits Moscow’s ability to implement powerful influence operations involving mass rallies and riots (as was the case with the Yellow Vests in France). 

Because of this, the leaders of Russia’s defense intelligence told their agents to start a campaign of bad information about only AfD in March 2023.

It is known that its ultimate purpose is to circulate Kremlin narratives in Germany to discredit the government, prevent further defense assistance to Ukraine, and shape a pro-Russian public opinion on the ongoing war. Both the preparation and implementation of the operation have been entrusted to the Moscow Department of the “Russian Centers” with the Russian Peace Fund. They are to draft pieces for spreading by the AfD’s regional offices through individual outreach to their voters on the ground. It is likely that the main emphasis will be placed on cooperating with the Russian diaspora, which traditionally maintains solid pro-Kremlin views.

It is expected that the circulated pieces would convince their audience of the pacifist nature of ordinary Ukrainians and their basic loyalty to Russia. Moscow will also continue to claim the “unity” of the two nations and that it’s Kyiv authorities who are to blame for unleashing the war in Donbas back in 2014. In this regard, it becomes obvious that even the Russian intelligence agencies have no objective vision of the current situation in Ukraine, continuing to work within the paradigm of the Russian President’s worldview, which leaves no room for compromise or any negotiating position to be formed, at least with the Ministry of Defense.

Since mid-February 2023, the Kremlin has been launching cyber attacks and employing bots to send out across chat groups and social media a range of fake messages aimed to hinder the ongoing process of the military draft and undermine people’s trust in the country’s military and political leadership. The operation is seen as a more effective variant of those run by Russia’s GRU defense intelligence back in 2014, employing e-warfare systems in Donbas.

Operations aimed at Ukrainians will likely move slowly onto European soil in an effort to make Ukrainians look like they don’t want to fight back against Russia’s invasion.

According to our estimates, this focus on psyops run on European soil is due to the poor material support of the Russian troops deployed in Ukraine, urging the Kremlin to try to avoid the need for more waves of military call-ups, which the experts of the country’s Security Council designate as a threat to Russia’s political and social stability. Thus, the Kremlin is trying to hamper the pace of Western military support for Ukraine as well as the buildup of Ukraine’s own manpower reserves. To this end, the relevant agencies in Russia are running meddling operations targeting Ukraine’s male population, trying to sow panic by posting fake reports of military draft officers launching raids on conscription-age citizens. A significant number of such messages contain critical errors in geographical and topographical definitions, which simplifies efforts to debunk them as hostile psyops.

The Kremlin expects AfD party functionaries to personally reach out to their root voters using specified materials received from the Russians. As per Moscow’s plan, the malign propaganda should eventually mold in German society a general protest mood against further arms deliveries to Ukraine, as the Ukrainians are allegedly no longer willing to keep fighting. The main message is that “not only is it wrong to supply Western weapons to Ukraine, but these efforts also encourage and stimulate the Ukrainian authorities to commit further crimes against their own people, throwing them into a deadly war grinder.” And that’s exactly the opinion that Russia seeks to impose on the Germans. The shrinking of the network of Russia’s active-duty assets in Germany allows for a more effective countering of any attempts by Russian intelligence to infiltrate the country’s political circles. However, against this background, a major boost in Russia’s psyops and attempts to promote Russian narratives through the German media using bribery and kompromat are seen as likely.

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