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In the third paper in RUSI's series on Russia and China in Europe, John Kampfner examines their interference and influence in Germany.
Germany is on the frontline of Russian and Chinese hybrid actions of interference and influence in Europe. The tactics used by China and Russia vary. Russia’s activities are largely political, attempting to undermine public confidence in democratic institutions. China’s have been focused mainly on economic assets. There are a number of synergies, however. This includes their tendency to go over the head of the federal government to talk directly to the Länder.
Policymakers agree that one of the most urgent tasks facing the soon-to-be-chosen chancellor candidate to replace Angela Merkel will be a reassessment of Germany’s vulnerability towards Russia and China. Merkel has taken a consistently strong position towards Russia since the annexation of Crimea and intervention in Ukraine, pushing sanctions through the EU. This is in spite of the fact that Germany has an emotional, cultural and historical proximity to Russia that other countries struggle to appreciate.
Germany’s export-based economy has become heavily dependent on China. This is now being reappraised by many in business and politics, although some leaders of multinationals continue to be extremely wary of criticising China’s actions.
A number of Chinese takeovers, successful or resisted, of medium-sized Mittelstand companies, the engine room of the German economy, has led to a shift in position and in perceiving China as a strategic competitor.
The poor relations between Donald Trump and Merkel have exacerbated Germany’s sense of vulnerability to potential dangers from China and Russia. Those relations have led to an increased sense of moral equivalence among Germans towards Russia and the US, according to polls. This is particularly apparent in the Länder of the former GDR, where regional leaders of all parties have been pushing for a relaxation or ending of EU sanctions against Russia.
Russia’s alleged cyber attack on the Bundestag in 2015 and subsequent attempts to infiltrate the political system, technologically and through disinformation, have led to a hardening of the German government’s position.
Russia has given strong support to the far-right Alternative für Deutschland and left-wing Die Linke parties. The Green party is one of the strongest voices advocating a hard line against Russia. Its role will be important if it is part of the next ruling coalition.
Senior Associate Fellow