The anatomy of Russian disinformation operations in Germany

As I have argued elsewhere, the Russian marketing and political consulting firm called Social Design Agency (SDA) founded by Russian political technologist Ilya Gambashidze (sanctioned by the EU) is currently a major Russian organisation conducting malign influence operations in the Western media and public spaces. In particular, the SDA “was involved in one of the most insidious Russian disinformation international campaigns that was dubbed Operation Doppelganger and consisted in spreading false information using fake websites impersonating government organisations and international media”.

In response to the Russian leaks of the secret talks in the German Bundeswehr, in this post I detail SDA’s two disinformation operations targeting Germany. While I provide original names of these operations, I refer to them, for brevity’s sake, as (1) “German boots on the ground”, and (2) “German reparations to Poland”. The text below is an English translation of the SDA’s description of the two operations; my additional comments and clarifications are highlighted. This post aims to show the typical mechanics, principles and scenarios of Russian disinformation campaigns.

(1) “German boots on the ground”


Original name of the operation: “Relatives of German military personnel protest against their expedition to Ukraine” (Verwandte deutscher Soldaten protestieren gegen die Entsendung ihrer Familienmitglieder in die Ukraine)

The form of the operation: A post on Facebook featuring a screenshot from WhatsApp [the SDA will produce a fake screenshot from the non-existent communication on WhatsApp and post it on Facebook along with the comments]

The text for the screenshot: “I’m in shock, I’m crying, I don’t know what to do. Martin said they’d be sent to Ukraine. We can’t talk about it, they signed a secret document. I asked him, why the hell, they were going to send only tanks. He said, there’s no point in sending tanks, the Ukrainians don’t know how to use them. And there’s no time to teach them. I don’t understand what to do!!! I don’t understand why my husband is being sent to this place??? Russia didn’t attack us, why do we have to fight??? And the meanest thing is that it’s forbidden to talk about it, or you’ll go to prison. I don’t know what to do! I’m ready to tear them all to pieces in Berlin if it helps!!! Tell me what to do!!!”.

The text for the Facebook post: “Are we through playing the war? Now they’re sending Germans into Ukraine! They’re forcing us to fight the Russians again! I heard about it before, but I didn’t believe it. Now I have to believe it. This is a screenshot of a message from a very good friend of mine. Her husband is a tank commander and he’s being sent to war. What should she do? Any advice?”

A note [from the SDA]: Texts do not have to be perfectly written. You can deliberately make a few mistakes – syntax, spelling, punctuation. The main thing is that they should not distort the meaning and perception.


(2) “German reparations to Poland”


Original name of the operation: “German government begins secret negotiations on reparations to Poland” (Die deutsche Regierung nimmt geheime Verhandlungen über Reparationen für Polen auf)

The form of the operation: Posts on Facebook + screenshots of news stories on Bild ( [the SDA will produce a fake screenshot from a non-existent news story on Bild, one of the most popular German newspapers; the link given in the SDA’s instructions is a general link to the Bild‘s section on domestic politics]

The text for the screenshot: “The newspaper’s source in the German government office confirms the information that the Foreign Ministry is starting preliminary consultations with the Polish side on determining the amount of reparations. “We have taken into account the opinion of the US Congress on this issue and have started preliminary consultations with the Polish side. It has been decided not to make the negotiations public for the time being – this could lead to misunderstandings and negativity among citizens. But, in principle, the decision has been made, because partnership and good neighbourly relations with Warsaw, London and Washington are worth more, especially now,” the official said on condition of anonymity”.

Texts for Facebook bots [managed and coordinated by the SDA]:

A patriotic bot: “Disgraceful! For starters, we’ve already paid off the Poles. And, secondly, the ‘traffic light coalition’ should resign if they support this”.

A broke bot: “I don’t know where to get money for food and electricity. And now I have to find money for Poles? HAVE YOU GONE NUTS?”

An AfD supporter bot [AfD is the German far-right party “Alternative for Germany” – currently, it is the largest pro-Kremlin far-right party in Europe, along with Hungarian Fidesz of Viktor Orbán]: “This is total helplessness. Are we capitulating to London and Washington again? What reparations? Give us our eastern lands, Poles, and we will think how much we should charge you for your poor development of them!”.

A note [from the SDA]: The text of the comments should perhaps be translated in a more primitive way.