Putin is trying to destabilize Germany, spy chiefs warn
In a secret meeting with German politicians the heads of the country’s two top intelligence services warned that Moscow is deliberately trying to create unrest in Germany, Bild reports.
The meeting, which took place in February with members of the Bundestag control committee, was attended by Hans-Georg Maaßen, head of the Verfassungsschutz (internal intelligence) and Guido Müller, deputy head of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (foreign intelligence).
The top spies warned there was a particular danger that Moscow would exploit the "high mobilisation potential" of Germany’s Russian community, which numbers at around 2 million.
Evidence suggests this section of the population is easily influenced by Russia into demonstrating on German streets, the spy chiefs claimed.
In January, thousands of Germans of Russian descent went onto the streets - including demonstrating in front of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office, the Kanzleramt - after Russian state media reported that immigrants had kidnapped and raped a 13-year-old Russian girl.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov also waded into the argument at the time, accusing Berlin police of covering the incident up.
Evidence collected by German prosecutors contradicted the girl's story and revealed that the girl had actually spent the when she was reported missing at a friend’s house.
The intelligence services say they are now observing the activities of members of organisations representing the Russian-speaking community.
Another strategy the spy chiefs say Moscow is using involves interviews with Russians on state television who have allegedly left Germany because "it is no longer safe" due to the influx of over a million refugees.
Speaking to The Local in January, Alexander Clarkson, lecturer in German and European Studies at King's College London, said that anti-German propaganda also has an internal function.
"By portraying Germany as a society in chaos because of migration, where Russian speakers are threatened, the Kremlin propaganda machinery projects the image to the Russian public that things are as bad 'over there' in the EU as in Russia," Clarkson said.
Relations between Moscow and Berlin are at their most bitter since the end of the Cold War.
Merkel was instrumental in organizing European sanctions against leading Russian businessmen and financial institutions after Moscow illegally annexed the Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
Although Putin and Merkel are said to have kept in close contact over the Ukraine crisis, the sanctions have in part contributed to a tumbling in the value of the Russian rouble.
Conflicting interests in the Middle East have also heightened tensions.
In February, Merkel backed a Turkish call for a no-fly zone over Syria, drawing an angry response from Russia which was assisting the Syrian government offensive in the north of the country with air support.
Germany and Russia have however worked together recently on agreeing a ceasefire in the war-torn country.