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Russia’s Information War in Germany: How Moscow is Changing German Minds

“I am not fond of the Germans by any means but, at the present time, it is more advantageous to use
them than to challenge them... Everything teaches us to look upon Germany as our most reliable
V.I. Lenini

At the beginning of May 2014, the former Federal Chancellor of Germany, Gerhard Schroeder,
celebrated his 70th birthday at a lavish party in Saint Petersburg. Schroeder, who has obtained
several lucrative positions in the commercial world since leaving office, perhaps did not appreciate
the significance of the location of the party, which was held in the Yusupov Palace, former home of
the immensely wealthy Prince Felix Yusupov, one of the group of conspirators who murdered the
monk Rasputin in the palace in 1916.
Yusupov and his co-conspirators, who included the Grand Duke Dmitri and Vladimir Purishkevich, a
reactionary member of the Duma, had treated Rasputin to wine and cakes laced with poison. When
they grew tired of waiting for the poison to work, they shot the monk, as he tried to crawl through a
door into the main hall where, almost one hundred years later, Schroeder would receive his guests.
The reason Prince Yusupov and his friends were so keen to rid the world of “the blackest devil in
Russian history,” as one of the conspirators called him,ii was because they suspected that he was
pro-German and part of an organised group of sympathisers and enemy agents, who had been trying
to persuade the German-born Tsarina to use her influence to cause Russia to withdraw from the
allied Entente against Germany. They hoped that the murder of Rasputin would be a strategic
counter-stroke, which would send a clear signal that Russia was not about to change course.
Schroeder may not have appreciated the significance of the location but there can be little doubt
that his chief guest did. Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, native of Saint Petersburg and former
KGB officer, no doubt appreciated the irony of the choice of location as he feted the man on whom
he fancied he could rely to continue to do so much to reshape Germany’s strategic course, to ensure
that it grew less dependent on the United States and that it remained ready to listen to the concerns
of Russia.
When pictures of the party, which showed a glowing Schroeder gleefully embracing the Russian
President, appeared in the German newspapers, there was widespread outrage. The party was held
at a moment of supreme tension between Germany and Russia over the crisis in Ukraine. The West’s
hesitant response to Putin’s invasion of Crimea had led to growing aggression by pro-Russian militia
in eastern Ukraine and, only a few days earlier, four German members of an OSCE monitoring
mission had been taken hostage. There was now an embarrassing diplomatic stand-off, with Putin
publicly disclaiming any responsibility, as the leader of the pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s