Saturday, January 30, 2016

Putin Overplays His Hand with Liza Case in Germany and Loses Friends in Berlin, Mitrokhin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 30 – In the pursuit of his goal of exacerbating the European refugee crisis, Vladimir Putin has taken actions in Germany including stirring up the Russian German community over the Liza case that have sent Russian-German relations to a new and much lower level, according to Nikolay Mitrokhin, a Russian analyst who lives in Bremen.

            This is no small thing to have done, the analyst says, because “Germany had been the last major state of the Western world with which Russia had the illusion of partnership relations.” Now, Berlin is looking at Moscow far more critically than it did and Germans are asking just how far the Putin regime is ready to go (

            The cause of all this is quite simple, Mitrokhin says. Liza is a 13-year-old Russian German girl who went missing for 30 hours. When she returned home, she said she had been kidnaped and raped by several Arab-looking men, an inflammatory charge now at a time of massive immigration to Germany from Syria and the Middle East.

            The police and her parents dismissed that version and one local newspaper suggested Liza was in love with a 19-year-old German of Turkish origin and had dreamed up the charges she made to hide her activities from her parents.  According to Mitrokhin, “this versioin appears quite likely.”

            That is because, he says, “despite the anti-Turkish and anti-Islamic attitudes among Russian Germans, sexual relations and marriages of Russian speakers with Turks, Kurds, and Albanians living in Germany are no rarity.”

            Had the case ended there, no one would have paid a lot of attention, but pro-Moscow outlets using social media whipped up the Russian German community, sparked demonstrations in a variety of German cities, and called into question the ability of the German police to protect Germans from Muslims and Turks.

            Underlying this conflict, Mitrokhin points out, are “the social problems of the Russian-speaking population of Germany.  It now numbers “no fewer than four million people, the largest foreign language community in the country.”  Many of those who formed its core were poorly educated and low skilled and thus were in the same social niche as Turks in Germany.

            That led to conflicts and suspicions, and the recent case shows that they are something that others can play on, even if many of the Russian Germans have acculturated if not assimilated into German life.  Indeed, sociological research shows that the Russian Germans were the most successful large diaspora in Germany.

            But precisely because they were successful, they and their problems were largely ignored by the authorities, Mitrokhin says. That neglect especially now when Berlin is focusing on the new influx has rankled many, especially since they continue to view themselves as a distinct group – they identify as Rusaks – and follow Russian media and culture more than German ones.

            Russian media have played on this, talking about the new immigrants as being “a crisis of Europe” and about the way in which the Russian Germans have been neglected and otherwise getting a bad deal.  Such stories “recall the situation at the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

            Some of Liza’s relatives turned to neo-Nazis from the National Democratic Party of Germany, which has ties with Moscow, or to other radical groups and a social media campaign began to mobilize Russian Germans to engage in public protests and demand their rights against the new migrants. 

            Their success in mobilizing the Russian Germans with this story has prompted “the German authorities to evaluate this unexpected ‘warning’ and now to guess about its causes.” That is leading ever more of them to view the upsurge in the activity of Russian Germans as being the product of Moscow policies and to questions about Russian intentions.

            Whatever the exact facts of the case are – and they remain in dispute – “serious harm has been inflicted on German-Russian relations” and that is leading Berlin to revise its “condescending attitude toward Putin sympathizers and direct agents of the Russian special services in the Russian-language diaspora,” Mitrokh continues.

            Moreover, it is prompting discussions about whether Germany needs to expand Russian-language media for its Russian speakers in order to ensure that they are not mobilized against Berlin by Moscow and to fears that “pro-Putin activity among the Russian Germans will not disappear” but must be countered in one way or another.

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