Since Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, the EU and the US have increased their attention when it comes to the Russian hybrid warfare and information campaigns. These activities are not limited to the US domestic issues though – as US Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr pointed out, the French and German pre-election campaigns have been marred by both overt and covert interference in elections in their countries. Germany, being the leader of the EU, has been particularly hit by this phenomenon, and due to its specific relationship with Moscow, Berlin is prone to being weakened by the Russian strategy.
Because of this preeminent status, Germany needs to stand up to the Kremlin’s wars both at home but also abroad. On top of this strong Russian influence on the German domestic scene, there is an emerging clash of narratives between Berlin and Moscow. Angela Merkel has been called by the New York Times “the liberal West’s last defender” amidst the rise of nationalism elsewhere in Europe but also in the United States. Her insistence on promoting the European project and its ideals stands in stark contrast to the Kremlin’s illiberal democratic model that it is trying to spread to the West. Moscow’s support for Europe’s nationalist parties like the National Front in France, the Freedom Party in Austria or the Northern League in Italy has helped trigger a wave of anti-liberalism and anti-globalization cross Europe. Russia and Germany represent a battle of ideas with the former trying to denigrate the credibility of the latter.
At the same time, Russia is an important economic partner for Germany. Berlin has every interest in maintaining healthy commercial relations, which have grown in intensity over the years. Therefore, it did not come as a surprise that some German lobbying groups and companies were against continuing the EU sanctions imposed on Russia over the Crimea conflict. Even bigger vulnerability than in trade relations lies in the energy sector. Just like other EU countries, Germany depends on Russian for oil and gas. In 2014, Germany’s oil and gas imports from Russia amounted to more than a third of its total imports.
To address these vulnerabilities, Germany needs to focus on further diversification of its energy sector away from the Russian gas. Most importantly though, Berlin needs to adopt a mentality of vigilance because the Russian strategy is permanently evolving as it progresses. Even if Russia does not succeed every time, strategic foresight is highly desirable. Moreover, Berlin can leverage its special position within the European Union to raise awareness among its allies about the importance of the Russian information wars. It can lead the way in formulating a comprehensive approach to address this challenge. Berlin already took the first steps in this direction in 2015 when it tabled a food-for-thought paper in NATO and the EU to achieve a common understanding of these threats. Importantly, Germany can articulate very clearly how important it is to stand together in facing this hybrid – both military and nonmilitary – tactics from Moscow.
‘Germany Confronts Russian Hybrid Warfare’ – Analysis by Kaan Sahin – Carnegie Europe.
(The Analysis can be downloaded here)