By Carl Johannes Muth
According to the last estimation, there are between 20-30 million ethnic Russians living outside the Russian Federation. In this context Putin has stated that he perceives himself as the president of all Russians and assured that “far-reaching support” for foreign compatriots has always been a state priority (Blank: 2015). Nevertheless, that sentiment alone does not explain Russia´s actions connected to the alleged kidnapping and rape of a German girl of Russian origin in Berlin. The crime was supposedly committed by migrants and has led to outrage and anti-migrants protests. In the course Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov accused the German police of a cover-up that has made the rape and abduction case into a political issue between Moscow and Berlin (Spiegel Online: 01/26/2016). Such a reaction leads to the questions: why is Russia risking its relationship with Germany for a tragic yet questionable offense occurring more than 1000 miles away from Moscow, and what role is the Russian media playing?
On January 11, the 13-year-old German-Russian girl called “Lisa” was reported missing in Berlin. She resurfaced a day later and claimed she was abducted and raped by three men from “southern countries” speaking broken German. However, German Police later reported there was neither medical nor any other evidence of kidnapping and rape (Spiegel Online: 01/19/2016). The girl was simply afraid of going home due to school problems and stayed the night at her boyfriend´s place. Since there was no evidence of sexual contact, her 19 year-old boyfriend was not prosecuted for child abuse even though the age of consent is 14 in Germany (Süddeutsche Zeitung: 01/29/2016).
In spite of all the case has sparked broad outrage when members of the far right as well as the Russian media accused the German police of attempting to cover up the alleged rape. The accusation came after the New Year gang assaults in Cologne by North African migrants, and Russian media claims that crimes committed by refugees are to be hushed up in order not to further inflame the virulent, anti-immigrant mood in Germany. For example, in Russia, the pro-Kremlin NTV channel presented a woman claiming to be the girl´s aunt who confirmed the abduction and also rape. This TV-report also showed a video of two migrants boasting about the rape, yet further investigation revealed that recoding dated back to 2009. Nevertheless, the reports in the Russian media encouraged hundreds of Russians living in Germany and supporters of the extreme right to protest in Berlin appealing for protection for their children from “migrant violence.” (BBC 01/27/2016, Spiegel Online: 01/21/2016).
It is not the first time that the Kremlin-backed media is accused of using propaganda to stir up trouble with the Russian diaspora living abroad. However, this tactic was used in the Baltics and the merely well-educated large Russian community in Germany was seen as too well integrated to be instigated for discord and distrust the western media so fast. On the basis of this recognition now some claim that Russia is using the same tactic in Germany to weaken Chancellor Merkel’s position when it comes to the renewal of EU sanctions imposed on Russia.
Undeniable, Russia´s current political and especially economic power is insufficient to rival a united EU. However, at the moment, due to a growing nationalism in Europe, there are not many central themes that would meet the general consensus of the member states – a development that is greatly supported by Russia. In fact, for a long time the Kremlin has been accused of secretly funding right-wing, opposition parties in Europe. A dossier of the US National Intelligence identified Russian influence operations running in several EU-states with the intent of “undermining political cohesion” (The Telegraph: 01/16/2016) by supporting right-wing and anti-EU parties, such as UKIP (GB), Front National (France), Jobbik (Hungary) or Alternative for Germany (AfD) (USA Today: 06/25/2015). Therefore it is hardly surprising that these political parties have advertised a closer partnership with Russia and at the same time, project attitudes of mistrust towards the EU and US-America.
Bearing in mind that accusing migrants of raping “white” women is an often a story used to stir people up by right wing supporters, the confirmation of the story by the Russian media and partly by the Kremlin can be seen as an attempt gain more support for the AfD in Germany. If this happens, it would contribute to a fragmented and disunited EU representing an easy target for Moscow´s plans to end the sanctions block the NATO and enhance other political and economic interests.
Moscow, on the other side, risks its significant bilateral relations with Germany by exploiting the unfortunate plights of the diasporic Russian community all over Europe. Losing one of the very few supporters of a closer partnership between the EU and Russia could become politically very costly for the Russian state. In addition a fractious EU would influence negatively Europe´s economic power in the middle and long term. As an important partner for the Russian state, Russia needs a strong EU economy to ensure its sales markets in the west.
It is hard to predict how the refugee crisis will go on in the near future, however a reduction of the current tensions, by limiting the numbers of refugees would be followed by a loss of supporters for right wing populist parties and Russia at the end could be even more isolated.
BBC: “Russia steps into Berlin ‘rape’ storm claiming German cover-up”, by Damien McGuiness (01/27/2016):
Blank, Stephan: “Putin and Lavrov Again Play the Ethnic Compatriot Card”, Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 12 Issue: 207, 11/13/2015:
Spiegel Online: “Angebliche Vergewaltigung einer 13-Jährigen: Russland wirft deutschen Behörden Vertuschung vor“, by Benjamin Bidder (01/26/2016): http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/berlin-lawrow-zu-angeblicher-vergewaltigung-von-13-jaehriger-a-1073933.html
Spiegel Online: “Angebliche Vergewaltigung einer 13-Jährigen: Wie russische Medien Angst vor Flüchtlingen schüren“, by Benjamin Bidder, Frank Patalong and Ansgar Siemens (01/21/2016): http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/justiz/russland-wie-die-medien-angst-vor-fluechtlingen-schueren-a-1073031.html
Spiegel Online: “Berlin: Polizei widerspricht Bericht über vergewaltigte 13-Jährige“, by unknown (01/19/2016):
Süddeutsche Zeitung: “Staatsanwalt: Angeblich vergewaltigtes Mädchen verbrachte Nacht bei Freund“, by unknown (01/29/2016):
The Telegraph: “Russia accused of clandestine funding of European parties as US conducts major review of Vladimir Putin’s strategy”, by Peter Foster (01/16/2016): http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/12103602/America-to-investigate-Russian-meddling-in-EU.html
USA Today: “Russia and Europe’s extremist parties find common cause”, by Oren Dorell (06/25/2015):