Amid ongoing accusations that Russia attempted to influence and subvert the U.S. presidential election, Europe is bracing for a similar operation by Moscow before a series of elections. France, Germany and the Netherlands go to the polls in 2017, and analysts say Russia is already attempting to influence the outcomes, a charge Moscow denies. As the chief European architect of sanctions against Russia, analysts say German Chancellor Angela Merkel is the European leader Moscow would most like to see voted out of power. In a speech this month Merkel warned of the dangers of external attempts to hack the election, adding that German leaders must inform people, and express their political convictions clearly. The chancellor is running for a fourth term. But she does have an Achilles heel. Nearly a million migrants arrived in Germany in 2015 and analysts say Russia will likely use this to try whip-up anti-immigrant feeling.
In January, a fake news story about a Russian-German girl named “Lisa” who had reportedly been raped by migrants prompted protests in Germany, and accusations of a cover-up from Moscow. The girl later admitted it was a lie. Russia will likely ramp up its efforts at disinformation before the election, says Center for European Reform analyst Ian Bond.
“They can target it both in France and in Germany. But because Angela Merkel herself has been so closely identified with the policy of admitting refugees and asylum seekers to Germany, it is, I think, an area of vulnerability for her,” Bond says.