07:52 GMT01 March 2021
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    German politicians and mainstream media have driven themselves into a frenzy in fear of Russian interference in next year's federal elections. Accusations are taking a page straight from the US Democratic Party, which tried to convince Americans that Russia was behind the hack and leak of the damaging emails which sunk Hillary Clinton's campaign.

    German domestic security agency chief Hans-George Maassen issued a stern warning earlier this week that Moscow may try to interfere in the elections next fall. 

    German media, already on edge over earlier claims that mysterious Russian hackers might carry out cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure for some reason, did not dispute the spy chief's claim, instead pointing to similar claims that Russian intelligence had secretly tried to manipulate the recent presidential election in the US.

    Berliner Morgenpost's article on Maassen's warning even featured a big color photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin, accompanied by the caption "Russian President Vladimir Putin is accused of influencing election campaigns in Western countries through targeted disinformation and even hacking attacks."

    The newspaper worriedly explained that "even during the US presidential campaign, the US government accused Moscow, in mid-October, of hacking into the email account of Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta. The release of these emails was meant to persuade American voters to vote for Donald Trump. At the time, US Vice President Joe Biden even threatened that the US would retaliate against Russia."

    Talking about a 'hybrid Russian threat' "which seeks to influence public opinion and decision-making processes," Maassen said that Germany must work to 'publically expose' such efforts. "When people realize that the information that they are getting is not true…then the toxic lies lose their effectiveness."

    The intelligence official did not explain what specific efforts could be taken to do so.

    Reuters, which conducted the interview with the German domestic spy chief, prefaced their story with a commentary recalling that German officials have already accused Russia of trying to manipulate the media "to fan popular angst over issues like the migrant crisis, weaken voter trust in moderate mainstream government under Chancellor Angela Merkel and breed divisions within the European Union so as to drop sanctions against Moscow."

    Chancellor Merkel herself said recently that she could not rule out Russian meddling in elections next year, the news agency noted. Furthermore, authorities have also said that Moscow may try to use the media to influence Germany's estimated five million Russian-speaking citizens.

    Commenting on Maassen's warning, and the German media's hysterical reaction to this and other claims of a secret Russian effort to manipulate German politics, Germany-based Svobodnaya Pressa contributor Sergei Debrer suggested that the real motives of this campaign seem to be to try and distract ordinary Germans from the country's real problems. These, he noted, include the dramatic rise in crime and social tensions as a result of the country's ongoing migrant crisis, but also concerns in the country's political establishment that Chancellor Merkel could fail to secure a fourth term as chancellor in next year's elections.

    In any case, "I can say one thing for sure," Debrer noted. "Dear Germans, do not even think it. Putin is not going to choose your next chancellor. He is up to his ears in work of his own to do at home!"

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    Tags:
    claims, accusations, intelligence agencies, external interference, media, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, Angela Merkel, Russia, US, Germany
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