What do Germans think about the Ukraine war and the sanctions against Russia? If you believe the Russian state media, they support President Putin and laugh at Chancellor Scholz. How are such posts created?

The people in Germany make fun of Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock. Chancellor Olaf Scholz was constantly criticized for his statements on Russia and asked by the people to “call back” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Reports with such messages have been circulating in Russian state media for the past year. The web portal of the Russian state news agency “RIA Novosti” delivered corresponding headlines, which are then taken over by other media in the country.

How do headlines like this come about? To understand this, it’s worth taking a closer look at a few articles. For example, in August 2022, RIA Novosti published a text under the headline: “Enough! The Germans react harshly to Zelenskyi’s appeal to the Russians”. This was intended to give the impression that anti-Ukrainian sentiment prevailed in Germany.

On closer inspection, however, “the Germans” did not react “hard” to the Ukrainian President’s appeal, but rather some alleged readers of the German news magazine “Der Spiegel.” Under nicknames such as “zw9s”, “nzjdMFpV”, “rrnsne2Nr” and “GvbR72” they posted comments on the online platform, which were then processed into articles by RIA Novosti.

In the case of nicknames made up of random letter combinations, there may be doubts as to whether they are real users. In some RIA Novosti posts, the nicknames of such alleged commentators are not even given.

In an article with the headline “The Germans attacked Scholz because of ‘absurd’ statements about Russia”, the information on the source of the quotes is even limited to formulations such as from “a user”, from “another commentator”, from “another reader ‘ and from ‘a fourth user’.

Such comments under contributions from leading European media should ensure that “systematic and pro-Kremlin trolling” penetrates the public discourse, emphasize experts from the Security, Crime and Intelligence Innovation Institute at Cardiff University in Wales.

A 2021 study examining the comments in 32 major European media outlets, including the online presence of Die Welt and Der Spiegel, states: “The accounts use the reader comments function on the websites of the Media to post provocative, pro-Russian and anti-Western statements in response to Russia-related articles.”

This is shown in particular by analyzing the accounts from which such comments are posted. “One of the accounts we were interested in has changed its location 69 times and its name 549 times since it was created,” the experts said.

Analysis of reader comments under foreign media articles emerged as a genre in Russia in the 2000s on the web portal “inosmi.ru”, which published foreign media articles in Russian translation. Comments that appeared among publications about Russia, but also about other topics, were analyzed.

At that time, the comments of professional trolls paid by the Kremlin were not so common on the websites of foreign media, Russian journalist and translator Alexei Kovalyov told the Russian-language portal Meduza. Kovalyov was editor-in-chief of inosmi.ru from 2012 to 2013.

The independent Russian news portal “Meduza” has been on the list of “foreign agents” since April 2021 and is now reporting from exile in Riga. The portals “inosmi” and “RIA Novosti” were integrated into the media holding “Russia Today” as part of a restructuring in December 2013. At the latest since this point in time, there can no longer be any talk of a genuine analysis of reader comments at “RIA Novosti”.

RIA Novosti often made comments about “the Germans” that “criticized” the use of too “harsh” words in relation to Moscow. Or they are said to be “horrified” by their politicians’ statements about Russia.

Headlines like “Absurd. The Germans are appalled by Foreign Minister Baerbock’s comments on Russia”, or “The Germans sharply criticize EU Commission President von der Leyen for her words about a ‘punishment’ of Russia”, are probably based on comments by “trolls”.

The statements often contradict what Germans really think about Russia, Ukraine, and sanctions against Moscow. This is evidenced by the Germany trend carried out at the end of 2022.

The survey, commissioned by the Working Group of German Public Broadcasters (ARD), found that 86 percent of Germans view Russia as a threat to global security.

Only ten percent described the Russian Federation as a country with which Germany could build a trusting partnership. In the case of Ukraine, this value was 47 percent.

37 percent thought the sanctions against Moscow were not severe enough, 31 percent rated them as proportionate and only 23 percent as too severe.

Adaptation from the Russian: Markian Ostapchuk

Author: Ilya Koval

The original of this article “Russian Fake News about “the Germans”” comes from Deutsche Welle.