Politicians from a far-right party in Germany who are currently visiting Russia and planning to travel to Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine have been accused of supporting Vladimir Putin’s war and undertake a “propaganda trip”.
The five politicians from Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) said their aim was to “see the humanitarian situation for ourselves on the spot”, but were asked to provide details of their visit to the party leadership, which does not apparently knew nothing about it in advance. Deputy party leader Peter Boehringer said the trip was not taking place on behalf of the AfD.
Three members of the group are members of state legislatures, two from Saxony-Anhalt and one from North Rhine-Westphalia. In a statement posted on his Facebook and Telegram accounts, Christian Blex of the AfD in North Rhine-Westphalia, one of the travellers, posted a pin showing an intertwined German and Russian flag.
The TAZ daily called it “particularly treacherous”, given recent reports of mass graves discovered in Izium, which the party chose to call its visit a humanitarian research trip.
The US-based Robert Lansing Institute for Global Threats and Democracies Studies (IGTDS), which describes itself as a nonpartisan, nonprofit public policy research organization, said the trip was taking place under the auspices of the Russian military secret services, whose members would accompany the politicians in the Donbass. The institute was the first to publish the information.
Hans-Thomas Tillschneider, co-director of the Saxony-Anhalt branch of the AfD, and Daniel Wald, also a member of the Saxony-Anhalt state legislature, issued a statement via the AfD faction at the assembly stressing that the party wanted to “see for its own eyes” beyond mainstream media reports, “particularly those of public service broadcasters”, which it said it viewed with a critical eye.
According to the IGTDS, the visit of the politicians took place from September 20 to 28. They were to go to the Russian port city of Rostov-on-Don and from there to the occupied Donbass region. The AfD is renowned for its pro-Russian position, sometimes also pro-Putin. Traveling politicians are well known for their support for maintaining German-Russian relations despite the war, including the removal of sanctions against Russia. They also expressed support for the opening of the Nord Stream II gas pipeline, which was to provide new gas supply from Russia to Germany in addition to the Nord Stream I flow, before it was scrapped by Olaf Scholz, the Chancellor, just before the start of the invasion of Ukraine.
Tillschneider described Putin as a “genuine guy, a real man with a healthy framework of values”.
Andriy Melnyk, Ukraine’s outgoing ambassador to Germany, shared the IGTDS report on Twitter ahead of its official release. He accused the politicians of supporting Russia’s ‘war of annihilation’ with their trip, urging the head of Germany’s federal office for the protection of the constitution, Thomas Haldenwang, to ‘act now’ and take action against the politicians. Melnyk accused the head of the AfD’s Saxony-Anhalt branch, Martin Reichardt, of being “Putin’s fifth column in Germany”.
The AfD leadership seemed deeply critical of the trip, but its expressions of outrage were limited to the group’s failure to register it or get its approval in advance, rather than to the fact that he had been to Russia. He called on the group to “comprehensively disclose” the organization behind the trip and its execution.
This is not the first such visit. Blex visited Crimea annexed by Russia in 2018.
Since the invasion of Ukraine, AfD politicians have frequently given interviews to Russian state media. In one of these interviews, Eugen Schmidt, a member of the Bundestag, called Germany an “illegitimate state”.