To: 18/04/2022 19:00
A young Russian diplomat has spent years in Berlin trying to relate to young German politicians. Documents available to WDR and SZ expose the network of the Kremlin envoy.
The Russian Embassy in Berlin is an imposing complex of buildings. It was built in Imperial times and was largely destroyed in air raids during World War II and then rebuilt. One of Russia’s largest diplomatic missions in terms of staff. The embassy has its own school, an adjoining residential complex for diplomats and their families, a swimming pool and even a tennis court.
Meanwhile, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution does not have an eye on the architecture when observing the embassy in Berlin’s government district. From the point of view of the German intelligence services, the embassy is above all one thing: a base for spies and informers from Moscow. Up to a third of diplomatic staff are said to have “intelligence experience”, meaning working for one of Russia’s secret services. Intelligence officers closely monitor the embassy and its employees. And they keep warning about their activities.
A Russian diplomat, who had been in Berlin for years, was apparently particularly active in establishing contacts with German politicians and business representatives. Daniil Anatolyevich Bisslinger, 33, a tall, thin man with a blonde side parting and an alert look. People who met him describe him as charming, courteous, charismatic, generous. Bisslinger is fluent in German, studied at Moscow State Linguistic University, is said to have family roots in Baden-Württemberg and has even worked as a translator for Vladimir Putin at times.
Joint search by WDR and “Süddeutsche Zeitung” as well as documents seen by journalists from the “Dossier Center” – an online platform of Putin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky – show how diligently the young Russian tried to network in the German politics and affairs.
From 2012 to the end of 2017, Daniil Bisslinger worked as an attaché at the Russian Embassy in Berlin, in the foreign policy department, where he was apparently responsible for contacts with political parties, in particular youth organizations, such as the organization youth club AfD Junge Alternative. . The diplomat poses beaming in a photo with Markus Frohnmaier, the chairman of JA. The two are said to have met on several occasions.
In August 2014, after the illegal annexation of Crimea, Bisslinger appeared at a young AfDler event in Stuttgart. In his speech, he questioned whether Russia was even active in eastern Ukraine and claimed that the sanctions would hurt his country as much as Germany. The AfD said goodbye to the attaché to great applause.
Other prominent politicians
And the Russian diplomat apparently also targeted young SPD and Union politicians. For example, the Junge Union chairman Philipp Mißfelder, who died in 2015, the current SPD chairman Lars Klingbeil or the future CDU health minister Jens Spahn. Bisslinger’s network also included employees of members of the Bundestag, McKinsey management consultants, energy lobby representatives and technology investor Christian Angermayer.
It is not uncommon for diplomats to do lobbying and public relations work for their country. For Russia, the focus is on energy policy, such as promoting the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, improving the Kremlin’s image in Europe or lifting sanctions. To this end, Moscow has for many years used many diplomats and spies on German politics and affairs. According to German security officials, the line between legitimate lobbying, the exercise of influence and espionage by the secret services is often blurred.
The former attaché Bisslinger, as the documents show, which WDR and SZ, invited representatives of politics, business and the media to events where he apparently made new contacts or deepened them.
At the German-Russian conference of young leaders, for example, or in intimate “fireside chats” in small groups. In the spring of 2015, Bisslinger sent his suggestions for a guest list to a Berlin energy lobbyist. He warned that the group of participants should be limited to members of the Bundestag. The list included CDU politicians Missfelder, Spahn and Thomas Bareiß, CSU deputy Tobias Zech, as well as SPD politician Klingbeil. The event was to take place in the Soho House in Berlin, and Bisslinger wrote that Gazprom’s public relations agency could cover the costs.
When asked today, CDU politicians Spahn and Bareiß say they did not attend the event in question – nor was there any contact with Bisslinger. Current SPD Chairman Klingbeil also said his office had no contact with the Russian diplomat. However, Bisslinger apparently had more success with other MPs and their employees, as the documents suggest.
Seemingly intensive exchange with CSU politicians
Bisslinger had a particularly intensive exchange with CSU Deputy Tobias Zech. At that time, the politician was a member of the Economic Cooperation Committee, among others. In the summer of 2021, he left the Bundestag because he had accepted a consulting fee from a national conservative politician from North Macedonia.
Zech and the Russian diplomat named each other at one point. The CSU man asked ahead of a planned delegation trip by Bavarian state parliamentarians to Russia in the summer of 2017 if he could help find people to talk to.
Tobias Zech (CSU), file photo
Bisslinger was happy to help, named contacts and suggested a visit to the Kremlin. The diplomat was also supposed to help Zech, who was also the welcome guest at the Russian Embassy’s Christmas reception, meet with the Russian State Duma speaker and secure an invitation to the Russian Investment Forum. 2017 in Sochi.
The contact was apparently fruitful for Bisslinger: In September 2015, CSU Deputy Zech said in a press release that the federal government should consider “dropping sanctions against Russia.” When he left the Bundestag, Zech thanked the Russian attaché for the excellent cooperation and also sent his private e-mail address.
Asked about his link with the former Russian diplomat, Zech did not rule. And Bisslinger also left an inquiry unanswered. After his stay in Germany, he reportedly initially continued to work for the Russian Foreign Ministry.