German spy agency probes Russia links to right-wing parties – report

Participants vote during the Alternative for Germany (AfD) two-day party congress in Augsburg, Germany, June 30, 2018. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle

BERLIN (Reuters) – 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, said RND.

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.

The domestic security services decided at a meeting in Potsdam to set up a group of experts from the federal agency and from eastern states and Berlin 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 destabilise the West.

In 2017 Frauke Petry, then leader of the AfD, held talks with Russian officials during a visit to Moscow ahead of a German federal election, including with an ultra-nationalist ally of President Vladimir Putin. That trip was discussed at the meeting, RND said.

Overall, intelligence officials thought the AfD had “minimal and limited contact” with Russia, the report said.

The BfV declined to comment on the report.

Germany’s BND foreign intelligence service sees the European election as a “good opportunity for Russia to further destabilise 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.

The BND was not immediately available for comment.

(Reporting by Michelle Martin, Editing by William Maclean)

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