THE RUSSIA CONNECTIONRussia Increases Spy Activity, Disinformation Campaign in Germany

By Ben Knight

Published 21 June 2023

Germany’s domestic intelligence agency has warned that Russia’s spy operations are expected to increase in Germany. The agency noted that far-right movements are harnessing opposition to military support for Ukraine.

Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), the country’s domestic intelligence agency, has said that Russian spying and disinformation operations inside Germany increased markedly in 2022 and they expect it will continue to do so this year.

In a new report published on Tuesday, the BfV said that Russia was showing an increased interest in disinformation campaigns. China was also mentioned as one of the “main players” in spy operations in Germany.

In the future, we can expect more clandestine and aggressive espionage operations by Russia, as well as cyberspace activities emanating from Russia,” the report said, before adding that cyberattacks are “regularly aimed at obtaining information, but may also be aimed at sabotage or serve the purpose of exerting influence.”

Russia’s war against Ukraine also means a turning point for internal security,” German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser wrote in the report’s foreword. “Especially in times of war, the leadership in the Kremlin relies on the work of Russian intelligence services.”

BfV President Thomas Haldenwang added, “the BfV report once again highlights the dangers to Germany’s internal security: espionage, cyber operations, and attempts by foreign intelligence services to exert influence have become more unrestrained and sophisticated.”

China’s activity, meanwhile, was aimed mainly at gleaning information about Germany’s industry, scientific institutions, and military. “In 2022, suspected state or state-directed Chinese actors continued to perpetrate targeted cyberattacks against businesses, government agencies, and individuals, as well as against political institutions,” the report said.

Masking Far-Right Extremism 
The BfV report also documented a rise in the number of far-right extremists in Germany, with the figure now reaching 38,800, (up from 33,900 in 2021), of whom 14,000 were considered potentially violent. 

The agency also noted that far-right movements had changed the cover under which they operate in public: While at the start of 2022, the report found the far-right was still instrumentalizing protests against COVID-19 protection measures, by the end of the year the far-right was hoping to harness opposition to military support for Ukraine and a potential energy crisis. 

Once these issues failed to find widespread resonance with the public, the BfV said, right-wing movements were once again hoping to stir anti-migrant sentiment.

Nevertheless, Germany’s mainstream far-right political party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD), is currently polling at 20% nationally, higher than it has polled in several years. The BfV estimates that some 10,200 of the AfD’s 29,000 members are far-right extremists.