A few days ago, the hashtag was trending on Twitter
It should actually be about threats to democracy and how to proceed in the Ukraine war, a constructive exchange. But after her appearance at the “Forum 2000”, a conference in Prague, Annalena Baerbock met with sheer hatred.
In the social networks, users demanded the resignation of the Green Foreign Minister, politicians sharply criticized. All because of a video clip that quickly went viral on the internet after her speech.
You can see Baerbock explaining that she is “standing by the Ukrainians’ side for as long as they need it”. She wants to keep this promise, “regardless of what my German voters say”.
It seems as if the people in Germany are indifferent to Baerbock, as if they are not interested in what they think and need. And that in times of skyrocketing energy prices, which are causing concern for many citizens – especially with a view to the coming winter.
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One can criticize the Greens for their “whatever” half-sentence. Because it is undisputed that Barbock’s statement was made that way. Apparently she wanted to underpin her point of view and make it clear that she does not make her Ukraine position dependent on political moods in Germany.
However, Baerbock formulated this awkwardly, perhaps imprudently. A foreign minister should not give the impression that the opinions of the people in her own country are irrelevant to her.
Nevertheless, the video, which has been circulating on Twitter, Facebook and Telegram for a few days, only reflects a fraction of what they actually said. When Baerbock was asked what goal was being pursued in Ukraine, she also addressed the situation of the Germans.
“We need to find good solutions across Europe to balance the social effects,” she said. And: “We remain in solidarity with the people of our country, just as we stand by everyone in Ukraine.”
It is no coincidence that this classification is missing in the viral clip. The edited recording is part of a targeted pro-Russian disinformation campaign, according to research by the Disinformation Situation Center.
The clip was edited and circulated by propagandists close to the Kremlin. The “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”, which has the analysis, reports on a whole series of Russian accounts that either only distributed the Baerbock quote taken out of context or the “Egal” video.
These include, for example, the Telegram account of TV propagandist Vladimir Solovyov, the Telegram site Sputnik and the channel RussiaUSA. In other words, platforms or private individuals who are keen to provoke pro-Kremlin reactions in Europe.
“Campaigns like the one that Baerbock is now at the center of are intended to influence public opinion about a representative of the system,” says Ralf Hohlfeld in an interview with FOCUS online. “But it also serves the angry citizens who are on hold. “
Hohlfeld heads the Chair of Communication Studies at the University of Passau. He focuses on political communication, media ethics, but also fake news and social media.
The communications scientist believes that the current campaign “reached the receptive addressees in their filter bubbles”. The Baerbock video and the quote taken out of context gave them “feed for their hatred of the system and democratic institutions”.
It is not surprising that Baerbock is at the center of such attempts at disinformation. Pro-Russian propagandists tried to discredit the politician as early as the 2021 federal election, when she ran for the Green Party as chancellor candidate.
After a speech at the Atlantic Council, the Kremlin-controlled TV station RT DE, for example, accused her of having megalomaniac plans like Hitler. The Greens had previously spoken about an experience at the time of Poland’s EU accession and the “reunification of Europe”.
She also mentioned her grandfather, who served as a soldier in World War II. For RT DE, the anecdote was reason enough to accuse the politician of National Socialist ideas. What could be read on the station’s website almost sounded worried.
“It remains for us to ensure that her ‘struggle’ and her ‘Europe’ bear no resemblance to her grandfather’s visions, and that the ‘reunification of Europe’ she celebrates does not take place, given historical precedents [.. .] considered,” it said.
It is difficult to understand why Baerbock mentioned her grandfather in the speech at all. According to an analysis by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, the context in which this statement was made – it was actually about cooperation between the EU and NATO – does not in any way suggest National Socialist ideas.
Media close to the Kremlin, such as RT DE, apparently wanted to defame Baerbock even then. The Friedrich Naumann Foundation writes that being labeled as a Nazi or fascist “is a common means of discrediting political opponents in Russia.”
And yes: Baerbock is obviously anything but a welcome guest in Moscow. Even before Vladimir Putin launched his war of aggression in Ukraine, which violated international law, it showed a clear edge against Russia.
She repeatedly stressed that Ukraine’s sovereignty was unquestionable and warned the Kremlin of “serious consequences” should a decision be made to invade the neighboring country. Even today, Baerbock stands for solidarity in dealing with Ukraine and harshness towards Putin.
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For Hohlfeld, however, other factors also play a role in the question of why she was repeatedly the victim of Russian disinformation campaigns. “Baerbock has always polarized people because she combines all the factors that reactionary, nationalist and illiberal circles abhor,” he says.
“It’s enough to be a relatively young woman with an academic background.” In the eyes of the communications scientist, her political style also makes her susceptible to disinformation campaigns intended to play into the hands of the Kremlin.
“Baerbock is known for speaking plainly – such a personality is much easier to put things in the mouth that are exaggerated and taken out of context.”
In Germany, the edited video of the foreign minister was mainly distributed by accounts close to the AfD. But the left-wing member of the Bundestag Żaklin Nastic also complained on Twitter: “The elected minister doesn’t care about the will of the voters.” So the propaganda maneuver has apparently been fruitful on the political fringes.
In the end, however, it is about more than the Foreign Minister’s image. Julia Smirnova, analyst from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), in an interview with the “Tagesschau” evaluates the Baerbock campaign as an attempt to rouse people in Germany against the sanctions against Russia.
Hohlfeld sees it very similarly. He considers further Russian campaigns not only likely, but certain. “Disinformation has been part of the Kremlin’s strategies for many years and is fully and ‘sustainably’ integrated into hybrid warfare and the fight against Western values,” he says.
The communications scientist describes Europe’s energy crisis as an “ideal target for disinformation campaigns”. After all, it has enormous social explosive power if many people in Germany should no longer be able to afford warm apartments.
Lutz Güllner from the European External Action Service (EEAS) in Brussels agrees. As head of the department for strategic communication and information analysis, he deals with the topics of disinformation, manipulation of information spaces and hybrid threats.
“We see that the energy crisis is increasingly becoming the focus of activities. The Russian narrative would like to suggest that it was the Western sanctions that raised the energy issue,” he told FOCUS online.
A look at Leipzig shows how tense the atmosphere is in some places. Thousands of citizens took to the streets there on Monday to protest against the federal government’s energy policy. Left and right-wing alliances had called for the demonstrations.
According to Hohlfeld, Russia finds it easy to get involved in the resentment, which is “probably the greatest social challenge of the present day”: “It is the trigger of the crisis and it can steer it as it pleases.”
Nevertheless, Peter Ptassek, the Federal Foreign Office’s commissioner for strategic communications, appeared unimpressed by the Russian attempts at manipulation last Thursday. On Twitter, he wrote that the Baerbock campaign was “off-the-shelf disinformation.” “Are we going to split up so cheaply? I do not think so.”