Politicians from a far-right party in Germany who are on a visit to Russia, and plan to travel to Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine, have been accused of supporting Vladimir Putin’s war and of undertaking a “propaganda trip”.
The five Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) politicians said their aim was to “see for ourselves in situ the humanitarian situation”, but were asked to provide details of their visit to the party leadership, which apparently knew nothing about it in advance. The deputy leader of the party, Peter Boehringer, said the trip was not taking place on behalf of the AfD.
Three of the group are members of state legislative assemblies, 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 daily TAZ newspaper called it “especially perfidious”, in light of the recent reports of mass graves discovered in Izium, that the party chose to describe its visit as a humanitarian research trip.
The US-based Robert Lansing Institute for Global Threats and Democracies Studies (IGTDS), which describes itself as a non-partisan, non-profit public policy research organisation, said the journey was taking place under the auspices of the Russian military secret service, members of whom would be accompanying the politicians to Donbas. The institute was the first to release the information.
Hans-Thomas Tillschneider, co-head of the Saxony-Anhalt branch of the AfD, and Daniel Wald, also a member of the Saxony-Anhalt state legislative assembly, released a statement via the AfD faction in the assembly stressing the party wanted to “see for its own eyes” beyond the reporting from the mainstream media reports, “especially those of the public service broadcasters”, which it said it viewed critically.
According to the IGTDS, the politicians’ visit was taking place between 20 and 28 September. They were due to fly into the Russian port city of Rostov-on-Don and to travel from there to the occupied Donbas region.
The AfD has a reputation for its pro-Russian, sometimes also pro-Putin, stance. The travelling politicians are well-known for their backing of maintaining German-Russian relations despite the war, including scrapping sanctions against Russia. They have also voiced their support for opening the Nord Stream II pipeline, which was meant to provide a new supply of gas from Russia to Germany in addition to the flow from Nord Stream I, before it was scrapped by Olaf Scholz, the chancellor, just before the start of the invasion of Ukraine.
Tillschneider has described Putin as an “authentic bloke, a real man with a healthy framework of values”.
Andriy Melnyk, the outgoing ambassador of Ukraine to Germany, shared the IGTDS’s report on Twitter before its official publication. He accused the politicians of supporting Russia’s “war of annihilation” with their journey, urging the head of Germany’s federal office for the protection of the constitution, Thomas Haldenwang, to “act now” and take steps against the politicians. Melnyk accused the AfD’s Saxony-Anhalt branch head, Martin Reichardt, of being “Putin’s fifth column in Germany”.
The AfD leadership appeared to be deeply critical of the journey, but its expressions of outrage were restricted to the failure of the group to register it, or get approval from them, in advance, rather than the fact they had travelled to Russia. It called upon the group to “comprehensively disclose” the organisation behind the journey and its execution.
It is not the first such visit of its kind. Blex travelled to Russian-annexed Crimea in 2018.
Since the invasion of Ukraine, AfD politicians have frequently given interviews to Russian state media. In one such interview, Eugen Schmidt, an MP in the Bundestag, referred to Germany as an “illegitimate state”.