Collusion or Homegrown Collaboration? Connections between German Far Right and Russia

10 Apr 2019

(Political Capital) (Co-authored with Ellen Rivera) Political Capital have already published a series of reports on the connections between the far-right and Russia in many European countries, including Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland, Greece and France (the latter one co-authored by Marlene Laruelle). This study (written by Marlene Laruelle and Ellen Rivera), focusing on the connections between German far-right and Russia, is a new piece of this series. This research is conducted by the authors, but Political Capital institute is proud of serving as a publication platform for this extensive and original analysis.

Executive Summary:

- The Russian-German far right relationship encompasses three ecosystems: first, the main German far-right party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), because of its electoral success and ability to influence ‘high politics’; second, several echo chambers—peripherical ‘think tank’ institutions and individuals without visibility on the broad German political landscape; and third, the sport/martial arts/biker subcultures.

- The AfD has taken a decisively pro-Russian course ever since its inception in 2013, with its main figures repeatedly being invited to Crimea and Donbas and an explicitly pro-Putin stance on matters where the majority of German politicians have sided with official EU policies, particularly with regard to the sanctions that have been in place.

- Both sides appear to be profiting from promotion by the other, which enables the AfD to pretend to be a political player on the international stage and its Russian promoters not to appear as politically isolated as they truly are. Top-level AfD figures, as well as a wide range of Russophile German far-right figures, have been promoted on Russian state media, such as RT and Sputnik. Other promotional methods have included media amplification through bot-nets and the micro-targeting of voters on social media. The Russian media’s amplification of anti-migrant themes, anti-Merkel statements, and discourses opposing the EU, NATO and the United States figures resonate well with the German Far Right.

- The AfD has been canvassing the Russian-German minority in Germany—which, at approximately 2.5 million people, or around three per cent of the electorate, is the largest immigrant group eligible to vote— as potential voters. The party’s targeting methods include the translation of its party program into Russian, the establishment of Russian-German interest groups within the party (such as the Russian-Germans in the AfD), and the filling of MP positions with Russian-German repatriates.

- The second pillar of the Russian-German far-right relationship encompasses organizations on the periphery of the AfD that link some of the party’s politicians, as well as other far-right proponents, with Russian interest groups. This periphery plays an important role as an echo chamber for pro-Russian narratives. These include, in particular, organizations with a strong Eurasianist bent, such as Analytical Media Eurasian Studies (AMES) around Yuri Kofner and the German Centre for Eurasian Studies (GCES), with links to the AfD and allegedly to Russian intelligence. To this should be added several figures particularly engaged in pro-Russian agitation, such as Manuel Ochsenreiter (with contacts to the neo-Eurasianist milieu), Markus Frohnmaier, Heinrich Groth and Waldemar Herdt, all involved in the formation of a political cross-front that is trying to network between elements of the far right and far left on the basis of a shared anti-Americanism.

- The third pillar of the relationship includes several far-right subcultures with a presence in both countries: the neo-Nazi milieu, with groups such as White Rex, and the hooligan and biker scene, most notably the Russian Night Wolves (NW). A unifying element of these scenes is their affinity for Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), particularly the Russian martial arts techniques of Systema and Sambo, which enjoy ever-increasing popularity in Germany.

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