Last week's events concerning the pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign




German politicians targeted by Russian hackers.

Politicisation over the COVID-19 vaccine escalates between the EU and Russia.

Congress pushes the Biden administration for action on Nord Stream II.

The US State Department's Global Engagement Center published its latest Counter-Disinformation Dispatch.

Kremlin's Current Narrative: US-EU relations are refreshed while Russia strikes accusatory tone.

Good Old Soviet Joke

Stalin says during a speech: “I am prepared to give my blood for the cause of the working class, drop by drop.”

A note is passed up to the podium: “Dear Comrade Stalin, why drag things out? Give it all now!”

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Policy & Research News

German politicians targeted by Russian hackers

A report last week from German news magazine Der Spiegel revealed that suspected Russian-aligned hackers targeted German parliamentarians as part of a long-running campaign (the report, in German, can be read here). The intruders targeted members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party in a spear-phishing email attack – i.e. using carefully worded, well-researched fraudulent emails designed to impersonate a trusted source. At least seven members of the federal parliament and 31 state assembly members were targeted.

The parliament hacking is part of a coordinated disinformation campaign dubbed “Ghostwriter” by US security company FireEye for its use of inauthentic personas posing as local journalists and analysts. It has been in operation since 2017 using many of the same fake aliases and techniques. According to the company’s report, those behind the campaign exploit website vulnerabilities and spoofed email accounts to spread fabricated content intended primarily to discredit NATO presence in Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania, and to further Russian strategic interests in the region. This particular focus makes it reasonably likely to be run by or supported by Russian intelligence services.

Earlier Spiegel reporting also warned that the fallout from the SolarWinds hacking, first reported in December 2020, is becoming a serious issue for Germany, with as many as 300 businesses and municipal authorities affected by the compromised software. The latest attack comes only six months ahead of the German elections in September and underlines experts’ warnings that Germany is the target of a systematic disinformation campaign.

Politicisation over COVID-19 vaccine escalates between the EU and Russia

The political fallout from COVID-19 vaccine delays across the EU has become palpable in recent weeks. On March 26, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian accused Britain of “blackmail” over a vaccine supply chain dispute and French President Emmanuel Macron commented that “Russian and Chinese attacks and attempts to gain influence through the vaccine” constitute a “new type of war.” The French government officials suggested the Sputnik V vaccine – which has already been approved for use by over 50 countries – “is more a means of propaganda and aggressive diplomacy … than a means of solidarity and health aid.”

Russia, which has previously accused the EU of stockpiling vaccines to the detriment of poorer countries, responded through Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov that it disagrees with allegations that “Russia and China are using the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines as tools of influence.” In early March Russia promised Tunisia 30 000 vaccine doses. However, this compares to 100 000 doses already delivered and 4 million planned for 2021 by the World Health Organisation’s vaccine sharing program COVAX. With €2.2 billion, the EU is the second-largest financial contributor to COVAX.  

Whereas approaches diverge considerably, several EU member states are still considering Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, which is currently under review by the European Medicines Agency. France and Poland remain sceptical, Czech and German politicians have expressed interest, and Slovakia and Hungary have already acquired Sputnik V doses. However, there is also internal division within member states. Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovič was forced to resign following a week of political turmoil, which included six ministerial resignations after he unilaterally purchased 2 million Sputnik V doses.

Even if Sputnik V does not become part of the EU’s vaccination program the bloc could become an important site of Sputnik V production as Russia outsources manufacturing to meet its 178 million dose target by July. An Italian firm is already contracted to produce 10 million doses and on March 24 Russian pharmaceutical company R-Pharm said it could begin production in Germany. 

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US Developments

Congress pushes the Biden administration for action on Nord Stream II

Members of both the Democratic and Republican parties have continued to voice their concerns over the Nord Stream II pipeline and perceived inaction by the Biden Administration. Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) penned a letter to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken reaffirming their opposition to the pipeline and calling for further sanctions to be introduced. Meanwhile, a group of Republican Senators led by Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) introduced the “Energy Security Cooperation with Allied Partners in Europe Act,” or the “ESCAPE Act,” which would not only impose sanctions on the pipeline and those involved in its construction but would seek to enhance the energy security of NATO members, providing allied countries with “reliable and dependable American energy.” A companion bill to the ESCAPE Act was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congresswoman Carol Miller (R-WV-3).

The US State Department’s Global Engagement Center published its latest Counter-Disinformation Dispatch

Clandestine Disinformation and Agents of Influence, the ninth dispatch of the Global Engagement Center, focuses on the “active measures” used by Russian and Soviet disinformation campaigns, specifically those targeting decision-makers and foreign leaders. The dispatch examines the work of Vasili Mitrokhin, the former head archivist of the KGB’s foreign intelligence branch who defected to the United Kingdom in 1992.

One of Mitrokhin’s papers, “KGB Active Measures in Southwest Asia in 1980-82,” provided information about KGB disinformation targeted towards decision-makers. One common technique was to invent “nightmare scenarios.” This involved convincing leaders, using trusted messengers, that their worst fears would be realized if they continued to pursue policies opposed by the Soviet government. Mitrokhin recounts that the KGB sought to convince the President of Pakistan, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, that the United States was plotting to replace him; meanwhile, they fed information that amplified Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s fears about Pakistan. The KGB’s ultimate goals included compromising the Zia-ul Haq regime, weakening the position of both the US and China in Pakistan, and creating new sources of contention in the Indo-Pakistan relationship.

Kremlin's Current Narrative

US-EU relations are refreshed while Russia strikes accusatory tone

On March 24, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, met to discuss  strengthening the EU-US relationship, along with responses to “priority foreign policy, security, and economic issues.” While Borrell and the EU were keen to stress the importance of the meeting, it parallels a decline in EU-Russia relations, which the Kremlin are all too keen to provide their reasons for.

The Russian Foreign Ministry claimed the EU has been placing pressure on Russia while interfering in affairs. It was claimed that the normalization of relations could not take place as Brussels had “linked the issue of normalization of bilateral ties with the settlement of the domestic Ukrainian conflict,” while heightening propaganda and economic pressure. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also laid the blame on the EU.

The Russian Foreign Minister, sitting beside his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, told reporters that there are “no relations with the European Union as an organization,” while adding that relations with China are developing faster than what is left with EU states. Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova suggested that the EU was a dangerous neighbour and not Russia.

In a recent press briefing, Zakharova claimed that Russia has historically suffered aggression from within the EU, while arguing that issues might have been solved if Russia had been listened to:  “we urged the EU to change its accusing tone, to act realistically, to admit their own problems and to stop trying to minimise them by promoting myths of Russia’s alleged aggressive.” Yet, despite claims of aggression, state-backed press suggests there is nothing to be concerned about.

Russian news agency TASS ran the headline “NATO statement on work with EU against Russia to have no practical effect,” with other articles attempting to undermine states with aspirations of EU or NATO accession.


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Kremlin Watch is a strategic program of the European Values Center for Security Policy, which aims to expose and confront instruments of Russian influence and disinformation operations focused against the liberal-democratic system.

For comments. suggestions or media inquiries, please contact the Head of the Kremlin Watch Program Veronika Víchová at 

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