17 Aug 2022, 14:01
Benjamin Wehrmann

German authorities warn against Russian attempts to sow division in society amid energy crisis

Handelsblatt / Bild-Zeitung

Russia’s government is actively trying to exploit Germany’s current energy supply crisis by sowing division and spreading disinformation, security agencies in Germany have warned. A “radical minority” of right-wing extremists and conspiracy theory advocates would be trying to use the war in Ukraine, inflation and the pandemic to “mobilise” people against the government, Thomas Haldenwang, head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesverfassungsschutz), said in a report carried by newspaper Handelsblatt. “To make matters worse, Russia is using cyberattacks and disinformation as hybrid levers to divide the German society,” Haldenwang said. Europe’s energy supply would be Russia’s focus here, he said, adding that Russian agents use “targeted” misinformation about gas shortages and price increases to fuel fears among the population that a confrontation with Russia will hurt the livelihood of ordinary German people. While Haldenwang’s office has not yet identified signs of widespread protests, it considers the risk of civil unrest due to anti-government propaganda a real threat. “The aim (of this misinformation) is to instrumentalise anger and growing problems in everyday life in the population to undermine long-term trust in the state, the government and democracy,” the office said.

Last weekend, German interior minister Nancy Faeser already warned that the country’s energy infrastructure could be at risk due to targeted attacks and protests. In an interview with Bild-Zeitung, the Social Democrat (SPD) politician said “disinformation and cyberattacks” authored by the Russian government are among the greatest internal threats Germany is currently facing. She said the government would invest in cyber security, especially of the new liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals that are meant to help make Germany independent from Russian imports. At the same time, “we are alarmed by attempts from left-wing extremists to instrumentalise the climate protests,” Faeser said. “I can imagine targeted attacks on the energy sector and attempts by extremists to abuse legitimate protests, just like during the pandemic,” Faeser said, but added that she saw no heightened risk of widespread civil unrest.

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