The alternative truth about Germany is generated by a man who lives in Crimea. This truth maintains that Germany has weapons of mass destruction, that almost all refugees are criminal, and that Angela Merkel instigates fights. With this truth, this man wants to impact the next Bundestag election from Crimea. His chances for success aren’t that bad.
The man sits in front of a green wall, in a secret location on the peninsula annexed by Russia. He agreed to a conversation via Skype. He said that he would have liked to come to Germany to talk with ZEIT about his goals. But he can't. He's been on a list of sanctions since he began working for the Russia-supported rebels in eastern Ukraine. He is thus forbidden to enter Germany. But he can do his job without any problem from Crimea. And he has colleagues in Germany.
Konstantin Knyrik is the man, chief editor of the Russian news agency News Front. He heads up an editorial office with a staff of about one hundred. Here are some headlines that Knyriks' staff has produced in German, for Germany:
ASYLANT MASTURBATES IN FRONT OF YOUNG GIRL IN SWIMMING POOL"
"FRIENDS OF MERKEL INSTIGATED A MASS BRAWL IN DORTMUND"
"SAXONY: TWO SEX OFFENDERS FROM LIBYA TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THREE YOUNG GIRLS"
The headlines are always written in capital letters at News Front. Much of the content appears to be invented. Often, real events are exaggerated in order to create fear. Knyrik and his associates say that truth is being destroyed by the established media. That's why they call themselves "fighters" in an "information war."
The agency is still young and small, but it is growing and looking for employees in Berlin for the months leading up to the Bundestag election. The aim is to spread a different truth here and to defend it against the alleged lies and manipulations of the controlled "system media." By this, Knyrik means all of the major German media channels and newspapers, including ZEIT. According to Knyrik, there's no free opinion in Europe anymore. He says censorship is "very common" in German media, and that it's getting worse and worse.
According to News Front, it is financed only by donations and advertising revenues. But a former employee says that a large part of the budget comes from the Russian secret service. Certain topics, says the former staffer, were assigned directly by the presidential administration in Moscow. Knyrik disputes this. But his former subordinate says, "You are a propagandist, and you are not looking for the truth, rather you follow orders." Defeating Germany in the information war or, at the very least, influencing the Bundestag election in 2017 "is the most important mission of News Front," says the former staff member. "The news agency was created for such purposes."
There have long been indications that Russia will try to impact the German election campaign, according to a Federal Intelligence Service (BND) and Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution report prepared for the chancellery. The goal of the Kremlin is not to help a particular party to victory. Rather, its purpose is to shatter the confidence of German citizens: in the security of the country, the stability of daily life, the integrity of people and institutions. The objective is that an all-encompassing suspicion should spread, democracy thus weakened, and those whose political business is fear will be strengthened. A destabilized Germany in a disputed European Union would thus be all the weaker against Russia.