Baerbock Statement Debate: A Pro-Russian Campaign?

fact finder

Status: 02.09.2022 5:00 p.m

Baerbock’s statement that sanctions against Russia would remain in place “regardless of what my constituents think” sparked a heated debate. Initial analyzes point to a targeted pro-Russian disinformation campaign.

By Carla Reveland, Editor ARD fact finder

A heated debate about Federal Foreign Minister Annlena Baerbock has broken out in social media under the hashtags #high treason and #BaerbockResignation. Due to a shortened video that was taken out of context, she is accused of putting Ukraine above the will of all German voters.

The network was raging, politicians voiced criticism, and calls for resignation were heard. “The elected minister doesn’t care about the will of the voters,” wrote Żaklin Nastic, a member of the Bundestag for the left. AfD parliamentary group leader Alice Weidel wrote on Twitter: “The resignation of the foreign minister is long overdue. Anyone who explicitly flouts the interests of voters in Germany has no place in a ministerial office.”

Pro-Russian disinformation campaign?

The Foreign Office, on the other hand, expressed the suspicion that it was targeted disinformation from pro-Russian channels. The Ministry Commissioner for Strategic Communications in the Foreign Office, Peter Ptassek, wrote on Twitter: “The classic: a video edited together that distorts the meaning, boosted by pro-Russian accounts and the instant cyber court is ready, off-the-shelf disinformation.”

A first analysis actually indicates that a pro-Russian disinformation campaign could have accelerated the Baerbock debate. Analysis by the Disinformation Situation Center, a coalition of NGOs tracking Russian disinformation, has observed efforts by Kremlin-affiliated accounts to circulate Baerbock’s out-of-context quote very early.

The study states: “Our preliminary analysis indicates that a decontextualized version of Baerbock’s quote, a manipulated version of her quote, and a manipulated video of her statement first appeared on social media channels associated with the Kremlin.”

Chronicle of a managed campaign

According to the Disinformation Situation Center, the first decontextualized version of the quote appeared on August 31 at 5:03 p.m. on the Telegram channel of Russia’s state news agency Ria Novosti. Shortly thereafter, leading Russian TV propagandist Vladimir Solovyov posted the quote in Russian on his Telegram channel.

For the first time in English, a distorted version of the quote was posted a few minutes later on Telegram channel @Sputnik (NewsZ). A cut video version first appeared on a channel called “RussiaUSA”.

The RussiaUSA channel is operated by the American Council for US-Russia Engagement, an organization run by Russian-American citizens and media owners, some of whom have been investigated by the FBI for foreign espionage. According to reports, the head of the organization, Vladimir Rodzianko, is an employee of DRN Media and a website called Duran, a well-known propaganda outlet that publishes pro-Kremlin points of view.

Baerbock’s video was shared on the organization’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, and later on YouTube and Instagram. According to the Disinformation Situation Center, Russian propaganda about the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine is regularly posted on these social media profiles.

From Kremlin-related accounts to the “world”

In the German-speaking social networks, Baerbock’s quote was initially shared on smaller, anonymous accounts – but it was quickly picked up by accounts with a greater reach. In the right-wing populist and conspiracy ideological milieu, the accusation against Baerbock was gratefully accepted and spread. AfD accounts even shared the video with the watermark of Russian American Daily’s Telegram channel.

The hashtag #BaerbockReturn is trending on Twitter, which is mainly used by accounts associated with the AfD. However, the hashtag is not new and was not created exclusively for the campaign: it was already used by AfD-affiliated Twitter accounts on August 2nd.

But not only right-wing agitators distributed the clip, members of the left and the media also fueled the debate. For example, the “world” first headlined a distorted version of the quote. By the time they corrected the headline, it had already spread and was being used in right-wing circles as a reputable source to confirm the allegations against Baerbock.

The analysis concludes: “Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter enabled the pro-Kremlin campaign to achieve a large reach in a short period of time, although some of the content in question arguably violated Twitter and Facebook’s terms of service.”

Baerbock a “popular enemy”

The disinformation campaign is not the first against Baerbock. Russian state media and Kremlin-related actors have already supported hate campaigns against Baerbock in the run-up to the 2021 federal election.

“Since the election, Baerbock has been a popular enemy in right-wing extremist circles, she has been attacked with misinformation and conspiracy tales,” says Julia Smirnova, an analyst at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD).

The current campaign is part of an effort to exploit fears of rising energy prices and mobilize people against sanctions against Russia.

Shortened video without context

The video, which is the reason for the heated debate about Baerbock, is a compilation of Baerbock’s appearance at a panel discussion as part of the “Forum 2000” conference in Prague. The discussion included the question of how long European countries can or should maintain support for Ukraine and sanctions against Russia.

In the short video clip, the Foreign Minister can be heard saying: “But if I give the promise to people in Ukraine: ‘We stand with you as long as you need us.’ then I want to deliver. No matter what my German voters think, but I want to deliver to the people of Ukraine.” In German: “But if I make the promise to the people of Ukraine: ‘We will stand by you as long as you need us’, then I want to keep that. It doesn’t matter what my German voters think, but I want to for the Ukrainian people deliver.” Here is the full video.

If you look at Baerbock’s performance in its entirety, it becomes clear that her statement was not meant that way, but that she was alluding to possible protests against sanctions in winter. Regarding the burden on German citizens, Baerbock said that there had to be social relief measures.

A detailed fact check of the falsified quote as well as Baerbock’s complete statements at the panel discussion can be found at our colleagues from the BR facts fox.

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