In 2015, suspected Russian hackers broke into the computer networks of the German Parliament and made off with a mother lode of data — 16 gigabytes, enough to account for a million or more emails. Ever since, German politicians have been watching nervously for the fruits of that hack to be revealed, and for possible embarrassment and scandal to follow. Many warily eyed September 2017 — the date of the next German election — as the likely window for Russian meddling to once again rattle the foundations of a Western democracy. But with the vote only two weeks away — and with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s European nemesis, Chancellor Angela Merkel, seemingly on track for a comfortable win — the hacked emails haven’t materialized. Nor have Russian-linked propaganda networks churned into overdrive with disinformation campaigns. Even Kremlin-orchestrated bots — blamed for the viral spread of fake news in last year’s U.S. presidential campaign — have been conspicuously silent.
The apparent absence of a robust Russian campaign to sabotage the German vote has become a mystery among officials and experts who had warned of a likely onslaught.
Have Germany’s defensive measures — significantly boosted after the hacks and propaganda campaigns that preceded last November’s U.S. vote — actually succeeded? Or has Russia decided to pull back, reckoning that the costs of antagonizing Merkel outweigh the benefits?
Or perhaps Moscow is simply biding its time.