Berlin is insistent on maintaining problematic relations with Moscow by making claims against Russia. Longtime German Chancellor Angela Merkel accused Russia in the Bundestag that she was the target of Russian hackers, adding that she had concrete proof of the "outrageous" spying attempts, without actually providing any evidence. She even went on to suggest that sanctions could be placed against Russia.
The German Foreign Ministry said in a statement on May 28 that "The Russian ambassador was informed that on the basis of an arrest warrant issued by the federal prosecutor’s office on May 5 against Russian national Dmitry Badin, that the German government will seek in Brussels to use the EU cyber sanctions regime against those responsible for the attack on the German Bundestag, including Mr. Badin."
The alleged cyberattack occurred in 2015 and brings to question why Berlin is now resurrecting a 5-year-old issue that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov highlighted there was no evidence for Russian involvement. EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, shared Lavrov’s sentiment and said he also did not have data on a cyberattack on the Bundestag and could not comment on this issue despite Berlin’s threat that it will use the EU to place sanctions on Russia.
"As for Russian hacker attacks, I don’t have any information that I can provide you at this stage," said Borrel, answering a question from journalists about the possible imposition of sanctions on this case against Russians.
Perhaps as the US continues to threaten companies involved in NordStream 2, Berlin is giving the appearance that it is still anti-Russia, despite being almost entirely reliant on Russia for its energy needs. Also, as Berlin has not provided evidence that Russia was behind the cyberattacks, why has it also not considered the US could have orchestrated the attack?
In October 2013, Steffen Seibert, an official spokesman for the German government, reported that former CIA officer Edward Snowden had warned Germany that US intelligence agencies could track Merkel’s mobile phone. Despite numerous demands from the public to conduct a full investigation and prosecute those responsible for this incident, in June 2015 the German Federal Prosecutor’s Office announced that the case was closed due to the inability to prove it in court.
Although the case allegedly could not be prosecuted, it does call to question why Merkel through a spokesperson told US officials that they “view such practices [like spying] … as completely unacceptable." White House spokesman Jay Carney said in response that "the United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of the chancellor."
In a statement, the German government said that "Among close friends and partners, as the Federal Republic of Germany and the US have been for decades, there should be no such monitoring of the communications of a head of government." The statement also said that Merkel had told Obama that "such practices must be prevented immediately."
However, this is an incident that took place seven years ago and under a different US administration and political party. Nonetheless, in February 2019, a scandal erupted around Swiss company Crypto AG which was developing equipment used to encrypt sensitive information, and was working closely with the CIA and the BND (German intelligence). It was revealed that for more than half a century this practice was going on, demonstrating that US spying on its own allies is not a new phenomenon.
Investigators from the German television station ZDF and The Washington Post found that the illegal actions by US and German intelligence services affected more than 120 countries. The Swiss company supplied products as far back as the Second World War with encryption weaknesses so US and German intelligence agencies could spy on many countries, including their own allies. Though the BND stopped participating in this Rubicon operation, as it came to be known, in 1993, the US continued to spy until 2018.
After such cooperation with the US, information about the wiretap of the German Chancellor, which remained without a harsh reaction, is presented in a completely different light. Berlin probably had to quietly take the insult in order to avoid major and public problems because the NATO allies have likely gathered a lot of damaging information about each other over the years in their joint work in the Rubicon operation. It is worth to mention that Germany is not an ordinary European state, but the power engine of the European Union and an important member of NATO.
Now Germany decisively accuses Russia of cyberattacks and threatens sanctions, despite not providing any evidence for their claims. Although Russia, unlike the US, did not wiretap the German government, it is much safer to blame Russian citizens for cyberattacks. It does bring into question however why Germany is even possibly discussing sanctions while it fully supports the NordStream 2 pipeline project to secure its energy interests with Russia.
Paul Antonopoulos is an independent geopolitical analyst.