US media reported last month that a planned visit to Russian-occupied Ukraine by politicians from a German far-right political party had been canceled. According to the New York Times report, the planned trip by the Alternative for Germany (AfD) group had received widespread criticism:
September 21, 2022 Berlin — A planned visit by far-right state politicians from the Alternative for Germany party to a Russian-occupied part of eastern Ukraine has been canceled, according to a party spokesman, after news of the trip prompted widespread criticism. “The trip has been called off,” a spokesman for the party, known as AfD, said on Wednesday. The spokesman shared an email with The New York Times from a member of the delegation informing the party that they had decided to cancel. While the vast majority of Germans support Ukraine as it fights the Russian invasion, a number of far-right — and far-left — politicians argue for maintaining good relations with Moscow. That position is controversial, even within the politicians’ own parties. On Monday, Christian Blex, a statehouse representative in North Rhine-Westphalia, said on the Telegram messaging app that he and two other statehouse representatives from Saxony-Anhalt were visiting Russian-occupied areas of Donbas to see the “humanitarian situation.” He did not give a specific itinerary. Echoing a Kremlin line, he accused Western media of bias when reporting on the situation in occupied areas. Critics of the trip pointed out that such a visit under Russian protection would be used to try to scratch away at German unity over the issue. The AfD itself disowned the visit. “All this shows on which side the AfD stands — Putin’s,” said Katja Mast, a federal lawmaker from the Social Democratic party, on Tuesday. “Such trips are exploited by Putin’s propaganda machine and do massive damage to Germany’s reputation and interests.” Andrij Melnyk, the outspoken Ukrainian ambassador to Berlin, said on Twitter that the trip supported Russia’s “war of extermination” and called on the German domestic intelligence agency to investigate.
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Multiple media reported the visit was sponsored by the Russian Duma.
An earlier European media report indicated that the AfD delegation of three regional MPs had already left Germany for Russia planning further travel to the East of Ukraine to “clarify the humanitarian situation.” The report also noted that it was not the first time the AfD visited Russian-occupied Ukrainian territories. In 2018, during the Russian election, several high-ranking AfD politicians visited Crimea, which Russia has annexed since 2014. Finally, the report indicated that the AfD had long been accused of taking pro-Russian positions. While officially condemning the war, they also advocated opening the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and stopping weapon deliveries to Ukraine.
Germany has one of the largest Russian diasporas, with an estimated 6 million Russian-speaking people living there. The AfD has more support in eastern Germany, which is skeptical of EU membership and where historic ties include ‘residual cultural empathy with Russia. A new poll from late September showed that the AfD would be the strongest political party in the former East Germany were elections to be held now, with 27% of people in the East voting for the party as opposed to 12% of former West Germans. A German academic has concluded that the AfD is a national-conservative party with many bridges to Germany’s right-wing extremism.
In December 2001, the Global Influence Operations Report (GIOR) reported that coverage of controversial topics by Russia’s German-language propaganda channel RT Deutsch showed “significant congruence” with the political and social positions promoted by the AfD.