Fears are growing in Berlin of a cyber campaign led by Russia against the leader of the German Green Party after his promise to block a gas pipeline project between Russia and Europe.

Annalena Baerbock, who is running for Chancellor Angela Merkel in the September elections, has been the target of an increasingly vicious social media campaign in recent days.

The assault included fake images purporting to show her naked, in which the body depicted is that of a Russian model, and a photo of her standing next to billionaire financier George Soros which was used to claim she was doing part of a world Jew. conspiracy which the far right believes to be the mastermind.

Cem Özdemir, former leader of the Green Party and now its foreign policy expert, said he was not surprised by the campaign, which he and others, including German security experts, see as backed by the Kremlin.

“In order to prevent the Greens from entering government, no way is beyond the Kremlin,” Özdemir told German media. “I can only advise all Democrats not to participate in Putin’s dirty campaign. The German parliament will be chosen in Germany, not in Moscow, Ankara or Beijing. “

The Greens have seen their support reach a new high over the past year, and in particular since the announcement last month that Baerbock would be the party’s main candidate.

She said shortly after her candidacy was made public that Germany needed to increase pressure on Russia over its military build-up on the Ukrainian border, and that political support for Nord Stream 2, a second German gas pipeline -Russian under the Baltic Sea, which is nearing completion. , should be removed.

Fierce opposition to the Greens has long existed in far-right and right-wing populist circles in Germany, but has increased since Baerbock was propelled into the limelight. Supporters of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party and groups opposed to the government’s anti-coronavirus measures have willingly participated in the campaign against her.

Attila Hildmann, a vegan cook and one of the main voices of the protest movement, accused Baerbock in a recent article on instant messaging service Telegram of preparing to forcibly vaccinate Germans “at regular intervals”, of being a puppet of Merkel and Soros, and being part of the so-called “big reset” conspiracy, according to which a takeover is unfolding under the guise of the pandemic.

Cyber ​​experts say the existing animosity is allowing foreign agents to stir up trouble behind the scenes. the the tabloid newspaper Bild said security experts, including NATO specialists, believe that “Moscow has pressed the anti-Baerbock button”.

German sensitivity to the likelihood of Russian interference is considerable after several large-scale hacking attacks. Dozens of German lawmakers and activists were targeted earlier this year via phishing emails believed to be part of a campaign known as “Ghostwriter”, which is believed to be linked to the Russian military intelligence service GRU. Russian agents are also believed to have been behind an online attack on a crucial Christian Democratic Union leadership meeting this year, which was cut short halfway through.

A hack into the Bundestag’s computer network in 2015 paralyzed parliamentary debates for several days and was used to acquire sensitive data which was then used in an attempt to destabilize the political system in the run-up to the 2017 federal elections.

An investigation by German intelligence authorities concluded that GRU agents carried out the attack. Moscow has denied the allegations. Merkel told the German parliament last year that she was “saddened” by the attack, which made it difficult to build a relationship of trust with Moscow.

The 2019 murder of a former Chechen insurgent in Berlin’s Kleiner Tiergarten park is also fresh in the memory of the Germans, which German intelligence officials said was a murder committed in the name of the Russian state. The murder led to sanctions against Russian diplomats.

Exiled Russian oligarch and Putin-opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky told a European Parliament committee on Monday that he had evidence that Russia was trying to shake German policy.

Khodorkovsky, who spent eight years in a Russian prison on charges of fraud and embezzlement that most observers believed were politically motivated, said the Kremlin’s campaign against Europe marked a “new phase of the Cold War “And that” it is above all Germany, which is in the sights of the Russian attacks “.

Its pro-democracy NGO, the London-based Dossier Center, released a 60-page report on its findings – which lists all known attacks that have been carried out on European soil by Russian agents, hackers and acolytes secret service – available. to committee members via a highly secure website.

Merkel has been heavily criticized for making her energetic transition, the planned transition to a low-carbon, nuclear-free economy dependent on Nord Stream 2, which is seen as a favorite of Putin’s project.

Pressure on Merkel to pull out of the pipeline project, even within her own party, has grown amid the horror of the treatment of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who is being held in a camp in prisoners since returning to Russia in January from Germany, where doctors treated him for nerve poisoning.

Baerbock’s promise to withdraw from Nord Stream 2 if she wins the Chancellery has won her praise and criticism.

Özdemir said what he saw as a Kremlin-backed campaign could be a direct result of his opposition to the project. “We are clearly on the side of the opposition politician Alexei Navalny and we position ourselves very clearly against Nord Stream 2. It is not to the liking of Putin”, he declared.

Gerd Schindler, the former head of the German foreign intelligence service, the BND, reportedly said that an attempt by the Kremlin to agitate against the Greens “would fit into the existing picture”.