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POLITICS

Exclusive: Far-right German parliamentary aide tasked by Russia with stopping Leopard tanks to Ukraine

Leaked communications between Vladimir Sergienko, a naturalized German citizen, and “Alexei,” a suspected FSB operative, show the extent of Russia’s infiltration of the Alternative for Germany party. Their “active measures” included a plan to stop or slow delivery of German main battle tanks to Ukraine using frivolous litigation against the German government. It would only cost $93,000.

Vladimir Sergienko, an aide to a Bundestag deputy, has been acting as an intermediary between the Kremlin and German lawmakers in the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, a joint investigation between The Insider and Der Spiegel can reveal. Sergienko, a staff member of AfD parliamentarian Eugen Schmidt, has helped coordinate AfD speeches, lobby for pro-Russian initiatives, and even helped trigger a lawsuit against his own government aimed at halting or slowing German weapons transfers to Ukraine – all at the instruction of a suspected Russian intelligence officer. Moreover, Sergienko personally shuttled cash between Moscow and Berlin and directed wire transfers to a German NGO sympathetic to the Kremlin to facilitate his efforts.

These disclosures are based on leaked emails and text messages between Sergienko and his presumed Russian handler, communication which The Insider and Der Spiegel has independently corroborated. They demonstrate the stunning degree to which Moscow has been able co-opt or recruit figures in the German political establishment and task them with advancing its own war of conquest in Eastern Europe. And they come just months after Carsten Linke, a senior official in the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence service, was exposed and arrested as a Russian agent similarly tasked with spying on and aiding Russia’s military activities in Ukraine.

Sergienko, 52, is a self-proclaimed political analyst born in Lviv, Ukraine. He was naturalized as a German citizen in November 2022 after having resided in the country for 31 years. AfD retains 83 out of 736 seats in the Bundestag, but it has lately gained new momentum in German polls, placing second in the field and ahead of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), to which German Chancellor Olaf Scholz belongs.

The party espouses ultranationalist views, railing immigration, particularly of Muslims, the European Union and NATO, while retaining a soft spot for Vladimir Putin. It is outspoken in its opposition to sanctions on Russia and any German military assistance to Ukraine. As recently as May 9, AfD head Tino Chrupalla and Honorary Chairman Alexander Gauland celebrated Victory Day, the Soviet anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, at the Russian Embassy in Berlin. This, despite the fact that Gauland has in the past praised the conduct of the Wehrmacht in World War II.

In March, Sergienko was tasked by a Russian contact known as “Alexei” with arranging for an AfD lawsuit to be filed in Germany designed to halt or hinder his own country’s provision of Leopard 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine, the leaked communications show. The pretext of the suit was that Scholz agreed to send these weapons platforms to Kyiv without approval from the Bundestag, even though no German law requires such consent.

“The government’s work will be hindered,” Sergienko messaged Alexei on March 1 about the immediate impact of such a lawsuit. “This situation is advantageous for us because the tanks will either be delivered much later than planned or a court injunction will be imposed. To maintain these actions, we need the following: approval, media support, financial support. A member of the Bundestag will sign a contract to prepare the lawsuit. Deputy inquiries and responses from the Bundestag's scientific service will be used separately.”

Scholz’s decision in January to not only send Leopard tanks to Ukraine, but to allow other European countries to send them, represented a milestone in Western security assistance to the embattled nation; also a dramatic about-face for Scholz who had previously resisted such a policy and only agreed following a U.S. decision to give Ukraine Abrams tanks. Moscow reacted furiously. The Russian ambassador to Germany, Sergei Nechayev, likened it to Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union. «With the approval of the leadership of Germany, battle tanks with German crosses will again be sent to the 'eastern front', which will inevitably lead to the deaths of not only Russian soldiers, but also the civilian population,” Nechayev said at the time.

Sergienko even provided Alexei a ballpark figure for the expenses required for the proposed AfD litigation to gum up the provision of Leopards: “Approximately 25,000 euros per month (estimated 2-3 months for review, the same duration for legal support, i.e., the injunction on supplies). The bill will be issued by a prestigious law firm uniting several specialized lawyers. Additional expenses for handling and representation (approximately 10,000 euros). The full names of the involved colleagues (Bundestag deputies) will be provided.”

The German parliamentary staffer was asking for as much as $93,000 from a suspected Russian spy to finance the anti-Leopard litigation.

The next day, March 2, Alexei replied that he had relayed this request to higher-ups but had yet to receive feedback.

As Der Spiegel reported in July, Sergienko has long been suspected by Western intelligence of peddling Russian influence in the heart of German democracy.

He has not only advocated on Russian state television that Ukraine surrender, he’s trafficked in outlandish conspiracy theories, among them that Germany was plotting to assassinate Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and, contradictorily, that Berlin was sending Zelensky’s administration a secret “Nazi code” by agreeing to provide 88 main battle tanks to Kyiv. (In neo-Nazi circles, 88 is a cipher used to refer to “Heil Hitler,” as the eighth letter of the alphabet is “H.” Germany has at no point indicated that it was sending exactly 88 Leopards to Ukraine. So far it has sent 28.)

As staffer to a sitting Bundestag deputy, Sergienko has full access to the parliament, something that has apparently discomfited German counterintelligence. Yet his full service to the Russian regime has remained speculative until now.

According to several Western intelligence officials, Sergienko’s contact, Alexei, is almost certainly a member of the Russian security organs, most likely the Federal Security Service, or FSB, one of the successor agencies of the Soviet KGB. The FSB was the service that recruited and ran Carsten Linke, the Russian mole in the BND, was also instructed to disrupt Ukraine’s self-defense, namely by passing detailed information on the battlefield locations of High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and Iris-T anti-aircraft platforms, which were provided to Ukraine by the U.S. and Germany, respectively.

The Insider and Der Spiegel were able to authenticate the text messages by obtaining phone metadata for Sergienko’s and Alexei’s Russian mobile phones. The timing of their chatter matched what was in the data leaked. In one extraordinary exchange, Alexei even inquired of his agent on May 3: “By the way on active measures, has something advanced?” Active measures refers to an old Soviet concept of political warfare against the West. “We are following the route map,” Sergienko wrote back. “Not easy but we are going.”

The messages also confirmed Sergienko’s movements within Russia, a country he has traveled to repeatedly – two dozen times in the last three years, eighteen of those trips having occurred since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Sergienko even flew to Moscow on February 23, 2022, a day before the invasion.

His effort to influence German parliamentarians with the connivance of a Russian spy also bore fruit. On July 5, the AfD parliamentary faction filed a lawsuit with the Federal Constitutional Court, Germany’s highest judicial body, challenging the chancellorship on the provision of Leopards to Kyiv. The hearing is underway in the city of Karlsruhe under the case number 2 BvE 5/23.

Yet lawfare wasn’t the extent of Sergienko and Alexei’s collaboration to undermine German sovereignty.

They also conspired on the drafting of a letter to Pope Francis from Harald Weyel, a politician from the AfD, and Ulrich Oehme, a former Bundestag deputy and the current president of the Association for the Defense Against Discrimination and the Exclusion of Russian Germans and Russian-Speaking Fellow Citizens in Germany (Vadar). The letter drew attention to the alleged “persecution of Christians in Ukraine,” in reference to the Ukrainian government’s decision to shutter Orthodox Churches from the Russia-controlled Moscow Patriarchate, and arrest priests it alleges are instruments for Russian espionage and influence-peddling under a religious garb.

The draft of this appeal was sent to Alexei, in Russian, on April 12. It was published in Russian state media the following day.

Oehme, too, is well known for his Russia apologetics. While still in the Bundestag, he controversially visited occupied Crimea on a trip paid for by the State Duma, Russia’s parliament. Vadar has pushed disinformation about the war, claiming, for instance, that an infamous Russian massacre of 400 Ukrainians in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha last year was “staged by the Ukrainian regime to discredit the Russian army.” A board member of Vadar is Eugen Schmidt, Sergienko’s current boss.

According to his correspondence with Alexei, Sergienko requested and arranged to receive financing from Moscow to undermine Germany’s security assistance to Ukraine. “Can we transfer money to a German NGO? I would need the bank details,” Alexei messaged Sergienko on April 14, apparently proposing to launder the Russian funds via a front entity. Sergienko responded: “Yes, we can transfer to a German NGO. I will check with the auditor.”

The name of the German NGO is not included in the leaked correspondence; Sergienko and Alexei agreed to meet and discuss this question in person two days later, although it is unclear whether they did or what came of such a meeting.

When contacted by The Insider and Der Spiegel, Sergienko was unable to explain his connection to Alexei in Moscow. Previously he was confronted by Der Spiegel with the fact that in April, German customs officers had detained him and found he was in possession of 9,000 euros in cash, just below the maximum of 10,000 permitted for entry into the country. In June, he was checked again at the border and this time had 9,000 euros on him.

“As a supposed journalist, you should actually know that Russia is cut off from the international payments network,” Sergienko told The Insider. “Just like Germany in Russia. Ask yourself how a man can travel today or meet family members who have no visa to [Germany] or to Russia. Your speculations, which you make to this private project, show from a blooming fantasy, less however from journalistic accuracy.”

Vladimir  Sergienko
Vladimir Sergienko

Sergienko’s frenetic travel to and from Russia mirrors that of members of another far-right European party, Italy’s League (formerly the Northern League), which has also been financed by the Kremlin. As previously uncovered by The Insider, assistants to party leader Matteo Salvini, Gianluca Savoini, and Claudio D’Amico, flew to Moscow on a “shuttle” basis several times a month, sometimes for just a few hours. Italian security services similarly suspected they were transporting cash between Moscow and Rome.

Nine thousand euros per month, about $9,880, may not seem like a serious sum for funding AfD deputies, but, as mentioned earlier, part of the funds were to be channeled through an unnamed NGO. And Sergienko was not acting alone in this scheme. According to phone billing records examined by The Insider and Der Spiegel, he was in regular contact with Sargis Mirzakhanyan, a Russian parliamentary staffer, who was in charge of an outfit called the International Agency for Currency Policy after Russia’s illegal seizure of Crimea in 2014. A previous investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project demonstrated Mirzakhanyan’s group “paid politicians thousands of euros to put forward pro-Russian resolutions in European legislatures.”

The new findings are likely to intensify scrutiny from European security services, who are already considering Sergienko as a person of interest in an espionage case, as previously reported by Spiegel. The presumed financial flow between the Russian state and AfD, long suspected but never before proven, may also implicate members of the Bundestag who, in Sergienko's own words, were “involved in the case.”

The leaked emails contain documents that may cause even more legal trouble for Sergienko.

Among the files found in his email are snapshots of his two Russian ID documents: a domestic and a travel passport, both issued in early 2022, around the time of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As previously reported by Der Spiegel, Sergienko acquired German citizenship in November 2022 by concealing the fact that he held Russian citizenship. German law does not permit dual citizenship, and Sergienko misrepresented to German authorities that he only had Ukrainian citizenship – which he later renounced – at the time he was naturalized as a German.

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