German spy agency probes Russia links to right-wing parties – report
Germany's domestic spy agency is examining Russia's ties to far-right parties, including the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD), the RND group of newspapers on Thursday cited intelligence sources as saying.
The BfV federal intelligence agency decided on the move with its regional branches on Tuesday, amid concern that Moscow may try to influence European elections in May and three regional votes in eastern German states this year, Euronews reported citing Reuters.
RND said that was the result of a meeting between the BfV intelligence agency and representatives of the regional offices that took place on Tuesday.
Potential Russian influence over Western elections is a widespread concern. U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and Moscow's possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Russia has denied interfering in the election and Trump has called the probe a witch hunt.
Authorities in Ukraine are up in arms to repel Russian meddling efforts ahead of presidential elections scheduled for March and parliamentary elections set to be held this fall.
A group of experts will be set up in Germany to investigate the issue in the coming months, the report said.
RND said the meeting had included discussions on links between Russia and both the AfD - Germany's largest opposition party - and right-wing party "The Right". It cited security sources as saying Moscow sees right-wing parties as possible allies in its attempt to destabilize the West.
At the meeting, a 2017 trip to Moscow was discussed by Frauke Petry, then leader of the AfD, who held talks with Russian officials ahead of a German federal election, including with an ultra-nationalist ally of President Vladimir Putin.
Germany's BND foreign intelligence service sees the European election as a "good opportunity for Russia to further destabilize the West and exploit national problems in a targeted way," RND said, without citing its source.
The main aim is to "weaken trust in electoral processes", the report cited BND sources as saying.