According to the report, anonymous emails had been sent to Lithuanian politicians and news outlets, alleging that German soldiers had raped a girl in the town of Jonava.
German soldiers are stationed at a military base in the nearby town of Rukla. The Bundeswehr is leading a 1,000 strong troop battalion that was deployed to Lithuania earlier this month as part of NATO's Atlantic Resolve mission.
NATO battalions have also been deployed to Estonia, Latvia and Poland, in the biggest military build-up in Eastern Europe since the end of the Cold War.
Anonymous sources in the German defense ministry told Der Spiegel that on February 14, emails were sent to the President of the Lithuanian parliament and several news outlets, which described in detail the rape of a young Lithuanian girl in Jonava on February 9. Without any evidence, they blamed Russia for the emails.
"Bundeswehr soldiers deployed to NATO's partner country Lithuania have been the target of a concerted disinformation campaign, which was apparently driven by Russia," Der Spiegel reported.
According to these "anonymous sources," the report was investigated by the Lithuanian government, which checked with the police and the Bundeswehr and found no record of the crime.
NATO immediately characterized the episode as a "fake news" story orchestrated by Russia, despite no evidence of Russian involvement.
Without any further investigation into the allegations, Der Spiegel and other German news outlets decided to publish NATO's accusation as fact.
Der Spiegel's initial headline for the story was "Russia attacks the Bundeswehr with fake news Campaign," which was later changed to "NATO suspects Russia is behind a fake news campaign against the Bundeswehr."
"Russia is under suspicion," the German newspaper Tagesspiegel reported.
"Russia said to have spread rumors of rape by German soldiers," the magazine Stern wrote.
German film-maker and columnist Uli Gellerman told Sputnik Deutschland that the episode is typical of anti-Russian hysteria among the German press, which were quick to peddle NATO's accusation.
"The information about the brutal attack by the brutal Russians struck German editorial offices like a bomb. Since nobody was there to defuse it, the explosives were simply thrown further."
"Nobody has seen these emails. Nobody can name their sender. Nevertheless, there was an investigation in Lithuania. The police investigation subsequently revealed that there was neither a victim, nor a witness nor a perpetrator."
"It is for exactly these kinds of aggressive attacks from nowhere that the EU has created the 'East StratCom Task Force,' a media group straight out of the Cold War. After all, the European Parliament says, 'The Russian strategy against its neighbors is becoming more aggressive and resolute,'" Gellerman said.
"Whoever thinks that the 'East StratCom Task Force' might have simply invented the message about the rape in Lithuania has come quite close to the surreal nature of this operation. Because it seems the German media loves nothing more than to feed on non-existent news, in order to pass it off as Russian fake news and then create its own fake news."
The German press is following a now-established playbook in making these kinds of unsubstantiated claims against Russia. Following the election of Donald Trump in November, German domestic security agency chief Hans-George Maassen went public with concerns that Russia may try to influence elections in Germany next fall, despite no evidence to support the claim.
German news outlets including the Berliner Morgenpost and Deutsche Welle reported the claim and pointed to similar unsubstantiated allegations made about "Russian hackers" involvement in the recent election in the US.
Despite these extreme efforts to accuse Russia of orchestrating a "disinformation campaign," a joint investigation by Germany's Federal Intelligence Service (BND) and the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) has failed to produce any conclusive evidence of Russia perpetrating a disinformation campaign against the German federal government.
According to Süddeutsche Zeitung, the security agencies were initially planning to at least partially disclose their findings to the public, but due to the utter lack of evidence – or “smoking gun”, as the government officials put it – they chose not to publish the investigation report at all.
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