Germany says Russia has intensified disinformation against Ukraine in Europe

Monday, 1 April 2024

Germany has reported a surge in Russian disinformation campaigns in Europe aimed at undermining support for Ukraine.

Ralf Beste, Head of the Department of Culture and Communication at the German Foreign Office, noted to the Financial Times that Russia's disinformation campaigns have grown more extensive, sophisticated and invisible.

"It is absolutely a threat we have to take seriously. Overall, [there] is an increase in sophistication and impact to what we have seen before," the German diplomat stressed.

The official indicated that Russia is combining greater sophistication and plausibility in its messages with automation to make its actions more effective and difficult to counter.

"There is probably a lot going on we can’t even see. More and more conversations are happening in private . . . channels on Telegram and WhatsApp. It is very difficult to understand what is happening there," Beste said.

Within his department, there is a special unit that leads the German government's efforts to track and disrupt Russia's information operations abroad.

Beste stressed that the Russians are looking for "cracks of doubt or feelings of unease and trying to enlarge them".

This year, his department exposed one of the largest attempts to manipulate German public opinion on Twitter.

The network of over 50,000 fake accounts, which generated up to 200,000 posts daily, sought to convince Germans that government aid to Ukraine was undermining German prosperity and risking nuclear war.

The network tried to "launder" such claims by presenting them as if they had been posted as opinions in reputable news outlets such as Der Spiegel and Süddeutsche Zeitung. Additionally, there was an effort to reinforce pre-existing anti-Ukrainian sentiments and broaden their reach.

Beste noted that addressing such efforts poses a significant challenge. He added that it shows how far Russia has come since the days of the infamous "troll farms" that exploited real people to spread fake news in often clumsy and obvious ways.

Following the revelations of pro-Russian influence networks in Czechia and Poland, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala stated that similar revelations should be expected in other countries.

Last week, some members of the European Parliament called for an urgent debate and investigation following allegations that Russia may have bribed individual MEPs to promote its interests.

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