German political parties campaigning for elections next month are competing to attract 2 million voters with roots in the former Soviet Union, amid concerns that Russian propaganda could sway votes in the community. The biggest push for votes has come from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has six Russian-German candidates on its party slate, and whose leaders have had two meetings with the community in recent weeks. Including candidates for the Social Democrats, conservatives and other parties, a record number of Russian-German candidates are standing in the election on Sept. 24, after years of having just one representative there – Heinrich Zertik, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU). Zertik is one of about 3 million Germans with roots in Russia and the former Soviet Union, whose ancestors moved there hundreds of years ago, but who faced persecution, torture and exile after two world wars.
Articles about voting issues in Europe.
Lawmakers in Kosovo’s new parliament have failed again to vote on a speaker to move forward with the formation of a new government, continuing a two-month-long political crisis sparked by inconclusive elections. The Kosovo Assembly failed to establish a quorum of 61 deputies in the hall on August 14, prompting interim speaker Adem Mikullovci to end the session. He said he would notify parties in the legislature in writing of the next scheduled meeting of the house. The failure for a fifth time to vote on a speaker, the first crucial step toward forming a new government, has raised worries that Kosovo could be headed for a political crisis and fresh elections.
Germany’s general election campaign kicked off in earnest over the weekend and it promises to be a nail-biter—for third place. Chancellor Angela Merkel looks like a sure bet to win a fourth term as the head of Europe’s biggest economic power when the country votes in late September. Her center-right alliance has a 15-point polling lead over its closest challenger, the center-left Social Democratic Party, or SPD, of candidate Martin Schulz. Merkel’s campaign slogan—“For a Germany in which we live well and happily”—channels a public mood wary of change. In a 40-minute speech to supporters in the city of Dortmund on Saturday that opened six weeks of campaigning, she didn’t even mention her opponent by name.
A dead dog in Moscow. A dead dissident in London. Twitter trolls run by the Kremlin’s Internet Research Agency. Denial of service attacks and ransomware deployed across Ukraine. News reports from the DC offices of Sputnik and RT. Spies hidden in the heart of Wall Street. The hacking of John Podesta’s creamy risotto recipe. And a century-old fabricated staple of anti-Semitic hate literature. At first glance these disparate phenomena might seem only vaguely connected. Sure, they can all be traced back to Russia. But is there any method to their badness? The definitive answer, according to Russia experts inside and outside the US government, is most certainly yes. In fact, they are part of an increasingly digital intelligence playbook known as “active measures,” a wide-ranging set of techniques and strategies that Russian military and intelligence services deploy to influence the affairs of nations across the globe.
One morning in November, Simon Hegelich, a professor of political science at the Technical University of Munich, was surprised to get an urgent invitation from the office of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who wanted to hear more about his research on the manipulation of voter sentiment. Less than two weeks earlier, the U.S. elections had ended in victory for Donald Trump, and the post-mortems were full of buzzwords the Chancellor urgently needed to understand: filter bubbles, bots, fake news, disinformation, much of it related to the claims that Russia had somehow hijacked the elections. “Basically she wanted to know what the hell is going on,” Hegelich recalls. What was past, Merkel thought, may be prologue. With German elections scheduled for Sept. 24, the Chancellor knows that her bid for a fourth term in office may be subject to the same dirty tricks employed in the U.S. presidential race. As Europe’s most powerful leader and its most determined critic of the Kremlin, Merkel has long been a target of Russian influence campaigns. Troves of emails were stolen from her political allies in 2015 by the same Russian hackers who later targeted the U.S. presidential race. During her 12 years in power, Merkel has also watched the Kremlin’s media apparatus air broadsides against her policies in a variety of languages, including German, English, Spanish and French.
Last week at the Def Con Hacking Conference in Las Vegas chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov discussed artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, electronic voting machines were hacked into, and the US army taught hacking skills to children. Plus a group called the Online Privacy Foundation unveiled research on whether ‘dark ads’ on social media can sway political opinion. Targeting voters through social media, and customising the messaging based on publicly available data is a recipe for underhand political advertising. It allows for messaging that’s not fit for a party political broadcast to be targeted to an audience in swing areas. For example, in the recent UK election, Conservative attack ads warning voters against ‘Corbyn’s death tax’ were served to voters in the marginal constituency of Delyn in Wales.
Intelligence officials here are on high alert, bracing for a wave of cyberattacks, embarrassing information leaks and fake news stories spread on social media as part of an expected Russian campaign to sow political discord ahead of next month’s German federal elections. The nation’s domestic intelligence agency says Moscow would like to see Chancellor Angela Merkel, a backer of sanctions against Russia, lose in September, but since that outcome is unlikely, the Kremlin can be expected to settle for any shenanigans that weaken the public’s “faith in democracy.” Many fear the Russian subversion effort will get fuel from the U.S. presidential vote while even contested charges of Russian hacking and meddling in the campaign have become a consuming political and legal distraction for the Trump administration.
Less than two months remain before Germans go to the polls in a general election. On the surface, this has been as regular an election season as can be: Parties have assembled their programs and teams, candidates have been out campaigning, and politics have mostly revolved around the classic issues: taxes, social benefits, public investment. Yet hanging over this appearance of normalcy is the question of when and how Russia will inject itself into the upcoming ballot. After apparent interference in the U.S. and French elections, there can be little doubt that the Kremlin will also attempt to sway the vote in Germany. Indeed, the German interior minister recently issued a public warning about potential Russian cyberattacks and disinformation ahead of the elections. While it remains unclear what the Kremlin has in store, chances are that it will try — and that German democracy will weather the onslaught.
Wikileaks has published Emmanuel Macron’s leaked presidential campaign emails as a searchable archive, meaning millions of internet users will be able to access the 71,848 emails sent and received during Macron’s leadership bid. The whistleblowing website revealed more than 20,000 of the emails were sent or received by addresses associated with the campaign, with the others emails it couldn’t verify. Macron’s office said the now French President’s email account was hacked on 5 May – just a few days before he defeated second favourite candidate Marine Le Pen. This is despite the campaign team reportedly planting false data to try and fool any hackers from stealing the data.
To come here as an American on the eve of Germany’s next national political campaign is to go back in time to our own recent past, before the hacks and the (Wiki)leaks led to the paralyzing debate over whether Russia intervened in our presidential election. I arrived in this idyllic, rational and not completely batty world capital (a strange sight to these American eyes) the week before last to find the country’s political world on tenterhooks, waiting for disruptive leaks but not knowing when or whether they might come. A group of hackers — “not us,” say the Russians; “yeah, you,” say the Germans — was sitting on a huge trove of political secrets gathered over the past couple of years. Its first big attack, on the Bundestag, the German Parliament, came in 2015. It vacuumed up some 16 gigabytes of emails and digital files from at least 16 members’ offices, including, officials here believe, that of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Cyberthieves have since struck think tanks related to her party, the Christian Democratic Union, and to its junior coalition partners, the Social Democrats.