The Kremlin is expanding its influence in Europe by utilizing its devoted Russian-speaking diaspora. There are numerous supporters of the so-called “Russian world” in Germany. Even though the German government unconditionally backs Ukraine and defending the Russian war is punishable by law in Germany, extremist groups are supporting Putin’s war.
Marches against NATO and “for peace” with Russia
In the spring, these militants staged street and car rallies in support of Putin and Russia’s war against Ukraine. In the latest months, they organized marches against NATO and “for peace” with Russia, with the ultimate goal to stop military aid to Ukraine. The protestors pose as independent activists, but they work closely with the Russian embassy and ally with German far-right activists, The Insider reports.
Germany has the most significant Russian population in all of Europe, with 4.5 million individuals speaking Russian and 230,000 holding Russian passports. Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, we saw a surge in the activity of Putin’s supporters in Germany.
Their most noteworthy initiatives have been anti-Russophobic motorcades and protests in support of Russia. Exactly one day before the world learned about the mass killings of Ukrainian civilians by Russian soldiers in Bucha, a big rally was held on April 3 in Berlin and provoked popular indignation.
As the German media dubbed it, participants in the “car rally of shame” displayed Soviet and Russian flags, loudly played Russian music in the streets of Berlin, and yelled obscenities at Ukrainian refugees.
Formally, the event was arranged by German Rene Hermann and Russian Christian (real name Igor) Fraher. They are owners of an auto repair shop in Germany. Hermann is said to have learned Russian due to his numerous business visits to Russia. Fraher is known to have immigrated to Germany from Orsk 20 years ago. Hermann was mentioned in a Russian Channel One story from the beginning of March; it aired a TikTok video in which he addressed “dear Mr. Putin,” voiced sympathy for the Russian dictator, and criticized the stance of European nations toward Moscow.
Connection with Russian embassy
Despite attempts to depict the Berlin march as a popular initiative, it was most likely funded by the Russian embassy, as Alexei Kozlov, the coordinator of human rights programs at Freie Russland Berlin told The Insider.
The event was rather expensive because so many unique flags for the vehicle hoods needed to be acquired separately. Fraher and Hermann were photographed at an embassy reception at the Seelow Heights monument later in April, establishing a connection between the rally’s organizers and the Russian diplomatic mission.
They were also caught on making xenophobic calls about Ukrainians. Fraher had been urging his followers on social media to target “Ukrops” and “Ukrainian streamers” on social media through his Telegram channel.
Other German towns also had pro-Russian protests in the spring. Their organizers were still trying to produce significant results. Ukrainians and anti-war protesters in Hannover blocked the road in front of the automobile caravan with Russian flags. The authorities in Frankfurt am Main refused to permit the event, so the organizers were forced to settle with a standard demonstration.
Russian fascist symbol banned in Germany
For the public exhibition of the Z symbol, criminal liability was implemented in certain parts of Germany from March 2022. Using a Latin letter to endorse the aggressive campaign against Ukraine is punishable by a fine or a three-year prison sentence.
As a result, a 62-year-old Hamburger who stuck a piece of paper with the word Z to his car’s back window was fined €4,000. The organizers of pro-Russia rallies were forbidden from using the letters Z and V and other Russian military emblems, including St. George ribbons, flags, or military banners.
The zero-tolerance approach to public support of Russia’s actions in Ukraine shows results. The Lower Bavarian police searched the scandalous blogger Yulia Prokhorova’s flat in October. She had been regularly sharing films on social media in which she praised Russia and welcomed Russia’s bombardment of Ukrainian cities.
At protests in support of Ukraine, Prokhorova also organized provocations; she arrived with a Russian tricolor and assaulted Ukrainian refugees. She is currently under investigation for “having approved of criminal acts.”
Russian rallies unite far-right militants, pro-Putin activists, and conspiracy theorists
The only option left to members of the Russian diaspora in recent months has been to demonstrate in public while shouting anti-government slogans in opposition to anti-Russia sanctions, rising prices, and coronavirus restrictions. Such protests attract a diverse set of militants: pro-Putin activists, far-right radical groups, believers in conspiracies, and other marginals.
On December 4 in Cologne, there was yet another demonstration against German and NATO policies. With signs demanding the start of Nord Stream 2 and an end to the supply of weapons to Ukraine, demonstrators marched along the city’s major streets. There were Russian flags in the crowd.
These gatherings were organized by members of the local Russian-speaking community, Pamyat activists, and spouses Elena Kolbasnikova and Maxim Schlund, along with other pro-Russian protests held in Cologne after February 24. Kolbasnikova, employed in home healthcare, was fired back in the spring when they tried to justify Russia’s war against Ukraine.
In October, a report about a married couple delivering help to the Donbas for civilians and DNR and LNR fighters was broadcast on Russian nationalist and imperialist media, Tsargrad TV. Russian propaganda told its viewers how the “Russian Germans” traveled to eastern Ukraine, occupied by Russia. The federal organization Rossotrudnichestvo, in charge of connections with Russian citizens abroad, also shared the video of Kolbasnikova and her companions gathering humanitarian aid for the people of Donbas on social media.
Right-wing politician Markus Beisicht’s support
In Cologne, the right-wing politician Markus Beisicht collaborates with Elena Kolbasnikova. He assists Kolbasnikova in planning anti-NATO rallies and actively participates in pro-Kremlin propaganda online. He is an Islamophobe, anti-Semite, and ardent supporter of Russian dictator Putin. Beisicht spoke in favor of Russia at the rally. Beisicht and Kolbasnikova were invited to the Russian Consul General in Bonn. At the end of February 2023, they intend to hold their next demonstration in front of the Ramstein US air base.
According to the visit record, Kolbasnikova visited the Russian Consulate General on behalf of Aufbruch Leverkusen, a far-right group affiliated with Beisicht. It is also known that the spouses Kolbasnikova and Schlund attended a festival for representatives of far-right movements in August of this year, hosted by the neo-fascist journal Compact. “Germany’s independence from US and NATO domination” and “peace with Russia” were the event’s key topics.
Alternative for Germany party
Robert Farle, a member of the Alternative for Germany party, was a guest who spoke in December at a pro-Russian demonstration in Cologne.
Late in 2020, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hosted a team from the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany party in Moscow. This party had long-standing ties to Moscow and is thought to have received covert funding from it. However, as soon as war erupted, AdG officials cut ties with their longtime ally, declaring that “there is no justification for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Tactics to undermine support to Ukraine
Moscow has a history of undermining social movements and political stance in European countries, particularly those hostile to Kremlin policy. The new aspect is that today’s emphasis has shifted toward new far-right, conservative, and extremist organizations. In contrast, during the Soviet era, it was primarily communist, and sometimes socialist, structures.
Using its agents and pro-Russia rallies, the Kremlin tries to undermine the West’s support for Ukraine. However, the German government’s solid and zero tolerance for Russian nationalist extremists and pro-war militants annihilates their influence in the country.