The Cable

Can We Interest You in Yet Another Russian Election Interference Story?

The story that seemingly never ends now turns to Germany.


We know those of you who closely followed the U.S. presidential race may probably be tired of stories about allegations of Russian election interference. So here’s another one! Berlin’s top domestic intelligence official is on guard against Russia seeking to influence upcoming elections in Germany.

In a Reuters interview published Wednesday, German intelligence agency BfV chief Hans-Georg Maassen warned of Russian media faking or skewing news stories to sway public opinion in the run-up to Germany’s 2017 federal election.

Germany already had a small taste of how falsified news stories can alter public opinion. In 2015, Russian state TV reported on a high-profile story of a German-Russian girl kidnapped and raped by migrants in Germany. The story was refuted as false, but it still caused a national political firestorm, even prompting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to weigh in.

“This could happen again next year and we are alarmed,” Maassen told Reuters. “We have the impression that this is part of a hybrid threat that seeks to influence public opinion and decision-making processes,” he added.

Many in the United States can sympathize with Maassen. On Tuesday, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called for a congressional investigation into Russia’s alleged hacking of the Democratic National Committee, ostensibly to influence the outcome of the U.S. presidential election — a claim Russia categorically denies.

But back in October, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Office of the National Intelligence Director accused Russia of trying “to interfere with the U.S. election” through hacking emails of American political institutions and operatives. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton claimed the hacks sought to help President-elect Donald Trump, as they targeted the DNC and her campaign chairman, John Podesta.

According to the U.S. government, Russia has a penchant for interfering in other elections around the world. “Such activity is not new to Moscow — the Russians have used similar tactics and techniques across Europe and Eurasia, for example, to influence public opinion there,” DHS said in an Oct. 7 statement. And, indeed, such tactics are indeed quite common in the Balkans, where heavy-handed Russian meddling and even murmurs of involvement in a coup plot in Montenegro come standard with every election.

And France, for its part, is also wary of Russian interference in its own 2017 elections. That likely will be of little comfort to Maassen — or those already losing sleep over Moscow’s meddling.

Photo credit: Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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