Accessibility links

Breaking News

Germany Bracing For Russian Effort To Influence September Elections

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere

Germany is expecting Russia to try to influence its general election in September, with the goal of undermining faith in German democracy rather than promoting any particular candidate, officials said on July 4.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said at a news conference that Berlin is bracing for a two-pronged attack of embarrassing leaks and fake news allegedly orchestrated by Moscow.

"We saw a probable influence on the election in America, we saw a probable influence on the election in France," he said.

"There is every reason to believe that that came from Russia, and thus it cannot be ruled out that there will be similar attempts on the election in Germany."

De Maiziere said Germany's security services have already observed data from computers at the parliament being scooped up, which he said "could be published in the coming weeks."

He said Berlin expects "a classic disinformation campaign with lies and half truths intended to shape opinions" spread by "bots" -- algorithms with fake profiles on social media networks.

"The only thing that helps against that is staying calm, keeping a cool head, finding out the truth, and presenting the facts," de Maiziere said.

Russia has denied trying to influence foreign elections.

Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Germany's domestic intelligence agency, said that while it is not known what Russia's goal might be for the German elections, he suspects that Russian President Vladimir Putin would prefer a different chancellor than Angela Merkel.

Merkel, who backs continued sanctions against Russia for its aggression in Ukraine, is seeking a fourth term in the September 24 vote.

Maassen said any campaign to influence the election could be more about unsettling German voters than promoting any particular candidate.

"It may not be aimed at strengthening one party or another, or ensuring that one or another person is elected to run the government, but that the trust in the functioning of our democracy is damaged," he said.

Maassen also said the German electoral system -- which is based on written rather than electronic votes -- was less vulnerable to electronic manipulation than other systems.

The warning about Russian hacking came days before Putin arrives in Germany for a meeting of Group of 20 leaders. It follows a spate of cyberattacks directed at the German parliament, individual lawmakers, political parties, and think tanks since the summer of 2015 -- all of which German intelligence agencies blame on APT 28, a Russian hacker group with links to Moscow.

Russia denies it has been involved in the cyberattacks.

With reporting by AFP, dpa, and Reuters