The lessons of Fukushima

Nuclear power must be well regulated, not ditched

It is an essential weapon in the fight against climate change


It has been ten years since a tsunami laid waste the Pacific coast of northern Honshu, Japan’s most populous island. 

The tsunami and the undersea earthquake which triggered it, the largest ever recorded in the region, killed nearly 20,000 people, destroyed over 100,000 homes and threw the lives of tens of millions into turmoil. 

The direct economic cost, estimated at over $200bn, was larger than that of any other natural disaster the world has seen. 

And yet for many around the world the event is remembered for just one thing: the ensuing crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

The earthquake cut the plant off from outside sources of electricity. The tsunami easily topped the plant’s sea walls, flooding the underground bunkers containing its emergency generators—a foreseeable risk Japan’s neutered regulators had failed to foresee. 

Because there was no way to cool the reactor cores, the nuclear fuel within them began to melt; amid fire, explosion and alarming amounts of radiation, a puddle from hell began eating into the plant’s concrete foundations.

The world looked on aghast. In Shanghai and San Francisco iodine tablets and iodised salt jumped off the shelves as people looked for prophylaxis of which they had no need. 

In Germany the chancellor, Angela Merkel, who had long stood with business leaders against the country’s powerful anti-nuclear movement, ordered its reactors phased out. 

In China the world’s largest new nuclear-plant programme was put on hold. Talk of a “nuclear renaissance” to fight climate change fell silent.

The reaction, though understandable, was wrong. 

Nuclear power has a lot of drawbacks. 

Its large, slowly built plants are expensive both in absolute terms and in terms of the electricity they produce. 

Its very small but real risk of catastrophic failure requires a high level of regulation, and it has a disturbing history of regulatory capture, amply demonstrated in Japan. 

It produces extremely long-lived and toxic waste. 

And it is associated with the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Most of the countries outside Europe that use nuclear power have some history of attempting to develop a bomb. 

All these factors contribute to an unease with the technology felt, to greater or lesser extent, by people all around the world.

Against all that, though, two things must be remembered. 

One is that well-regulated nuclear power is safe. 

With the terrible Soviet-era exception of Chernobyl, nuclear disasters come without large death tolls. 

It was the tsunami, not radiation, that claimed nearly all those lives in Fukushima. 

The other is that the climate is in crisis, and nuclear plants can supply some of the vast amounts of emissions-free electricity the world needs if it is to cope. 

Solar and wind power are now much cheaper, but they are intermittent. Providing a reliable grid is a lot easier if some of its generating capacity can be assumed to be available all the time. 

Nuclear provides such capacity with no ongoing emissions, and it is doing so safely and at scale around the world.

Despite this, safe and productive nuclear plants are being closed across the rich world. 

Those closures and the retirement of older sites mean that advanced economies could lose two-thirds of their nuclear capacity by 2040, according to the International Energy Agency. 

If new fossil-fuel infrastructure fills the gap, it will last for decades. 

If renewables do so, the opportunity cost will be measured in gigatonnes of carbon. 

Renewables replacing nuclear capacity would almost always be better deployed to replace fossil-fuel capacity.

Sometimes the closure of nuclear plants is largely a matter of economics. 

In places where emitting carbon dioxide comes with no price, such as America, the benefits of being emissions-free are hidden from the market. 

That hurts nuclear, and it should be rectified. 

When closure is political, the onus is on Green politicians, in particular, to change their tune. 

To hasten the decline of nuclear power is wilfully to hobble the world in the greatest environmental struggle of all.

The argument for keeping existing nuclear plants open has been strengthened, in some places, by one of the responses to Fukushima: greater independence for nuclear regulators. Britain granted new freedom to its regulator after 2011. 

So did Japan. Though grander hopes for reform after the tsunami bore little fruit, Japan did largely take the regulators’ hand from the power companies’ glove. 

Its new supervisor has made reopening mothballed nuclear power plants harder than the government would like, but that is as it should be. In Japan more than anywhere, nuclear needs to earn back trust to be useful.

This points to nuclear’s greatest weakness. In democracies it is expensive, owing to regulation and public antipathy, which makes new nuclear power a hard sell. 

The technology is thus increasingly the preserve of autocracies—precisely the systems where good regulation is least likely. 

Having paused after Fukushima, China’s nuclear plans accelerated as part of an effort to reduce reliance on coal. China produced four times as much nuclear energy in 2019 as it did in 2011; it has 16 reactors under construction and another 39 planned.

Countries wanting new nuclear plants now look to China and Russia as suppliers.

There is a strong case for democracies seeking to replace ageing nuclear plants with non-intermittent equivalents to join the importers. 

If Chinese reactors are designed in the knowledge that they will have to meet with the approval of independent regulators the world will be a safer place. 

At the same time, in boosting energy r&d to tackle the climate crisis, Western governments should be sure to give nuclear its fair share. 

There are real attractions to some new approaches, notably smaller reactors with lower unit costs: in platoons they can replace old plants; singly they can add incremental capacity where needed. 

They might perhaps be used to retrofit old fossil-fuel plants.

It’s critical

Nuclear power has drawbacks the size of a tsunami. 

But with Chinese plants being built today that will not be decommissioned until the 22nd century, it cannot simply be wished away. 

What is more, it has a vital role to play in the fight for a stable climate. 

The lesson of Fukushima is not to eschew nuclear power, it is to use it wisely.

The Caribbean: An Overlooked Source of US Power

Control over its waters is central to hemispheric influence. 

By: Allison Fedirka


The world’s oceans have been a center for global conflict for centuries, and for good reason. 

Coastlines along these waters touch a variety of countries, most of which have competing interests in controlling the resources that reside in and below them, the lanes they create for transportation, the borders of adjacent islands, and so on. 

The Caribbean Sea, however, stands out as relatively peaceful despite including dozens of countries and one of the world’s most critical maritime trade routes. 

U.S. dominance of the Western Hemisphere has generally kept competition at bay, and though the Caribbean has played a crucial role in that regard, it is also a potential Achilles' heel for Washington.

The foundational geopolitical framework for looking at the Caribbean begins and ends with the United States. This stems from a combination of geography and historical happenstance (not to mention the backgrounds of Alfred Thayer Mahan and Nicholas Spykman, the two primary architects of the framework, whose theories would inform U.S. expansionism in the late 19th century and were just as important when the world order changed after World War I).
 


Washington’s victory in the Spanish-American war removed the last European stronghold from Caribbean waters and served as the launchpad for U.S. hegemony of North America. 

Soon thereafter, the U.S. emerged as the world’s strongest power and has maintained that status ever since. 

With the exception of Soviet efforts during the Cold War, Washington’s dominance of the Western Hemisphere has gone largely uncontested over the past 120 years.

A look at the power competition during the colonial period, however, more clearly shows the strategic value of the Caribbean and explains why European powers competed so strongly for the region. 

Spain dominated the early years of European colonization in the Americas, but during the 17th and 18th centuries, the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands tried their hands too. 

Fighting for control and conquest of the Caribbean was common, no matter how small the territory. 

Territory changed hands constantly, making the area constantly unstable.

Northern Rim

Their efforts in this regard shed light on the more important factors and features that conferred control. One of which is the northern rim. 

In geopolitical terms, the Caribbean’s northern rim consists of the Greater Antilles, the Bahamas and the Gulf of Mexico. 

The Greater Antilles – Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Puerto Rico – serve as the gateway from the Atlantic into the Caribbean Sea. 

Spain took advantage of them early, setting up strongholds on three of these four islands. 

France eventually secured Haiti, while and the United Kingdom took Jamaica and the Bahamas. 

Each was critical for supporting and resupplying ships engaged in trans-Atlantic trade and related voyages – and for establishing a strategic military foothold.


 
Any power on mainland North America needs to secure maritime approaches on its southern coasts, and this means establishing a strong presence along the Gulf of Mexico, which connects directly to the heartlands of Mexico and the United States. 

In the United States, the Mississippi River system provides a cost-efficient way to export grains through the port of New Orleans. 

In Mexico, the port of Veracruz is a major commercial hub and the best point of entry for marching inland directly to Mexico City – the same route used by the Spanish, French and U.S. in years past. (Offshore oil discoveries have only made the gulf more valuable.)

Control over Florida offers one defensive point for monitoring approaching sea vessels from the east. 

Its western coast and panhandle lend another dimension of influence over the gulf. 

It’s why this valuable terrain passed through the hands of the Spanish, French and British in the colonial era.

The importance of Cuba, located just a few miles off Florida’s coast, cannot be overstated. 

Whoever can control or subjugate Cuba can influence the maritime flow in and out of the Caribbean. 

The U.S. and Mexico have always understood as much, and so both positioned themselves as political patrons ahead of Cuban independence. 

The U.S. succeeded and leveraged its position to establish a presence on the island that continues to this day. 

It also gained control over Puerto Rico and later acquired the Virgin Islands to secure its hold on the Caribbean’s northern rim. 

Washington’s opposition to the Castro government and its affiliation with the Soviet Union stemmed from its fear of a foreign power in Cuba strong enough to threaten the free transit of U.S. vessels. 

Even today, many years after the end of the Cold War, the United States still fears the vulnerability Cuba presents.

Western Border

The value of the western flank of the Caribbean basin stems from its proximity to the Pacific Ocean. 

It includes Mexico and the seven countries that comprise Central America. With the exception of Belize and El Salvador, all of these countries are bicoastal. 

It’s at this point that North America narrows, greatly reducing the distance between Pacific and Atlantic coasts.

The prospect of a canal that allowed the quick transport of ships across Central America was valued by foreign business and governments alike. 

It would significantly reduce transit times and enable the dominant power in North America to move quickly between the two oceans. 

France, the U.K. and the U.S. spearheaded the efforts to construct a canal. 

Three locations were considered, but Panama ultimately won out. After early French setbacks, the U.S. took control of the canal’s construction. 

The rest is history.
 



Even so, quick maritime transit and free flow through the canal remain prominent security and economic concerns. 

When the U.S. relinquished control of the canal to Panama, it conditioned the deal on the U.S. maintaining the right to use military force to defend the canal against any threat to its neutrality. 

Concerns over secure access to the canal also motivated, in part, the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989. 

So important is the prospect of a canal that Mexico is still promoting the construction of its own railway and related support infrastructure along the isthmus. 

As recently as 2015, Nicaragua and a privately owned Hong Kong group were pursuing feasibility studies for canal construction. 

Both of these initiatives face numerous obstacles to their completion, and that they are being considered at all reflects the strategic value of the area.

Eastern Border

The Lesser Antilles are a smaller springboard into the region. 

The number of islands, their location and size reduce their strategic value relative to the Greater Antilles. 

The islands are hard to defend, lack the resources to support power projection and are highly dependent on some type of mainland support structure. 

As a result, they saw more frequent changes of power during the peak of colonial competition. St. Lucia alternated between British and French control seven times over 52 years. 

Under the U.S.-dominated hemisphere, these islands played marginal roles, though select islands did take on significance during the Cold War as they were associated with the Soviet Union (think Grenada). 

More recently, in 2019, the U.S. identified Curacao as a point for delivering humanitarian aid in Venezuela. 

Some of these islands have attracted Chinese investment in their tourism sector.

Southern Rim

The Caribbean’s southern rim provides a terrestrial counterweight to the north and is well-positioned to influence approach routes to the Panama Canal. 

The coastlines along the southern part of the Caribbean belong to South America, which provides a degree of strategic depth absent in Central America and among the islands. 

The early competition to conquer this territory included plays by the Spanish, Portuguese, French, Danish, British and Dutch. 

The interest in this section of the Caribbean came in part from the potential for securing a strong, permanent presence in the region. 

The southern rim’s depth and the absence of a strong foothold nearby for launching attacks meant the southern rim – namely, Colombia and Venezuela – could assume a strong defensive position against maritime aggression. 

The history and fortification of Cartagena is a textbook example. U.S. dominance of the hemisphere reduced the potential for the southern rim to serve as a counterweight. 

Instead, Washington used its influence over the years to develop stronger ties with the southern rim, particularly Colombia, and used those relationships to further secure U.S. interests in the region.

If this all sounds a bit academic and dated, it should. 

It ties directly to the theories submitted by geopolitical strategists from centuries past. 

The thing is, geography rarely changes, and the power it affords is immutable. 

The fact that the Caribbean has been quiet for so long doesn’t disprove as much; it proves only that uncontested control over its waters can create the conditions for uncontested control over the hemisphere. 

It’s the source of much of the United States’ power, and so it will be the source of U.S. anxiety over the loss of power for years to come.

The Disinformation Station

Germany Fears Influence of Russian Propaganda Channel

With RT DE, Moscow wants to provide a platform for corona skeptics, right-wing populists and leftist fans of the Kremlin to destabilize democracy in Germany. Internal emails provide insights into the media organization.

By Maik Baumgärtner, Roman Höfner und Ann-Katrin Müller

Russian President Vladimir Putin during a visit to RT in Moscow in 2015 Foto: SNA / ullstein bild


The call to order from Moscow came at 2 p.m. on Oct. 23, 2020, per video call. That Friday, RT DE, the German-language arm of the Russian state-funded television channel RT, had a news story on its website: "China and Germany Are Becoming Superpowers.” 

According to the report, Vladimir Putin had said as much during a video conference. A photo of the Russian president was at the top of the story. Putin was further quoted as saying that the absolute dominance of the U.S. was passé.

The powers-that-be in Moscow were not happy. 

Not because they thought the story was inaccurate, but because it only appeared online 20 hours after Putin had made his remarks.

So they called the staff of the German branch of the broadcaster to voice their displeasure. "They really ripped into us,” say call participants. 

They were told that such a thing should never happen again, they say. Important statements from Putin needed to appear on the website much faster, they were told.

RT DE, which had been called RT Deutsch until November, has been disseminating Kremlin-financed propaganda in Germany since 2014. Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which has been keeping an eye on the platform, says the outlet is seeking to weaken trust in democratic institutions. 

The agency says there are close links between the station and those seeking to undermine the democratic order in Germany in addition to conspiracy theorists. 

And it considers the news disseminated by RT DE to be part of a disinformation campaign orchestrated by the Russian state.

Internal documents from the media platform that DER SPIEGEL has seen show the extent to which German staff are required to follow instructions from Moscow, and how political those instructions are.

RT DE is part of a Russian media network that also includes the video news agency Ruptly and the production company Redfish. The platform publishes articles, photos and videos on its own website, on YouTube and via other social networks.

The platform doesn’t post a detailed masthead on its website in the way that most German or traditional media establishments do. 

And even those employees DER SPIEGEL was able to speak with don’t know how many people actually work for the organization. They estimate the number to be around 70 to 100. 

When contacted, RT DE said "the employee figures are accurate in this order of magnitude.” However, "we intend to significantly increase our team to more than double its size as quickly as possible," the organization added, saying it is "currently in the active hiring process." Just in time, of course, for Germany’s next federal election in September.

RT DE's website states that its creators "want to provide a counterpoint to the one-sided and often interest-driven mainstream media with its German-language program.” 

The aim is to create a "counter-public.” In one video, the broadcaster refers to itself as "a green menace,” a reference to the color of its logo, and describes others as "enemies.” Margarita Simonyan, RT’s editor-in-chief in Moscow, recently stated: "We defend our country like the army."

Right-wing extremist politician Björn Höcke of the AfD is a sought-after guest on RT DE. Foto: Screenshot / DER SPIEGEL


For the broadcaster’s 15th anniversary in December, the Moscow TV station offered itself congratulations in the form of a video. It featured semi-realistic animated heads-of-state including then-U.S. President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel. 

The German chancellor is seen visiting a therapist because she feels persecuted. Alluding to the poison attack on Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny, Merkel examines water bottles, wipes them down and then draws the curtains. "They work 24/7,” she tells the therapist. 

When the therapist asks "who,” Merkel taps on her smartphone and holds it out to her. 

RT is written on it. The video ends with the words: "They’re crazy about us.”

The German-language broadcaster RT DE, this much is clear, likes to make itself look bigger than it really is. But its influence does appear to be growing, especially since the coronavirus pandemic and Navalny’s poisoning. 

The organization announced a month ago that it intends to expand further by launching a regular, 24-hour TV station to be aired from Berlin.

The platform doesn’t disseminate completely fabricated fake news, the disinformation is more subtle. The reporters distort and neglect facts, thus sowing distrust of the authorities, politicians and the established media. Internal documents show they deliberately stay away from obvious conspiracy narratives.

For example, according to an internal email sent in February, employees were told that they should not claim that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States were orchestrated by the U.S. government. Nor should they claim that the coronavirus doesn’t exist. Although "that is not to say that we are not ready to discuss some controversial ideas,” such as "the effectiveness of PCR tests.”

There’s one example in the mail that shows just how thin the line is for RT staff. It is, for example, not OK to write that the corona pandemic has been "state proclaimed.” But it is fine to write that the pandemic had been "declared by the WHO (World Health Organization)” because it is WHO that made the crisis an official fact. The emphasis is on"declared," as is understood by the audience.

When asked for comment, RT DE said they "naturally" wants to "provide a forum for the relevant public opinion.” The broadcaster’s standards, the statement continues, are currently applied and will be in the future as well.

In recent months, RT DE has become one of the main platforms for Germany’s so-called Querdenker, a movement made up of corona skeptics opposed to the government’s coronavirus containment measures, and other groups skeptical of the disease. 

The platform reports more about the protests against the coronavirus measures than normal media do. Ruptly even broadcasts live streams of the events.

The editorial strategy appears to be paying off for RT. "Our August numbers are very good. Of course, 'Querdenken' rallies have helped a bit," Executive Director Dinara Toktosunova wrote in an email to the entire editorial staff on Sept. 5, 2020. "We’ve also started September strong with our strong coverage of Navalny’s case.”

An RT reporter in the town of Marienberg, Germany, in 2017 Foto: Uwe Meinhold / imago images


In further emails, senior officials at the broadcaster said they were pleased by the "150-180,000 views per day.” 

Stories about the coronavirus, they continued, had achieved "very significant growth” and a 41-percent increase in "unique users” relative to the previous year. In the past nine months, the mail stated, they reached 14 million people.

When asked to comment, ,RT DE confirmed the authenticity of the email and wrote: "We are pleased with this success."

This, however, is concerning to Germany’s domestic intelligence agency. "RT DE, along with Ruptly and Redfish, is a danger to democracy,” says the head of one state branch of the domestic intelligence agency. "The Russian state has realized that it can be used to achieve reach and impact." 

The source says the platforms function as multipliers in disinformation campaigns. "Broadcasting on all channels – exploiting the power of algorithms and taking advantage of the low media literacy of many consumers – is unfortunately working very well,” he says.

"The Russian Patient – Political Theater at Berlin’s Charité Hospital,” for example, was the name of a video posted in August in which RT DE’s founding editor-in-chief and now director of strategy development, Ivan Rodionov, spoke about Navalny’s poisoning. 

With a string of video snippets and screenshots, he suggests it’s not Russia that needs to clear up what happened. Instead, the West has "questions to answer,” he says. 

"Who had access to the patient after he landed in Berlin? Who got their hands on the samples taken from him?” 

He also noted that Navalny wasn’t the first "assigned patient with geopolitical implications” to be treated at Berlin’s Charité University Hospital.

The video is just one in a series of pieces published that aim to absolve Russia of guilt and try to play down the seriousness of the case. It’s not by chance – there are clear instructions from the top. 

A February email, for example, stated that RT was not speaking of a "poisoning" in the Navalny case, but of a "suspected poisoning." 

By the time the email was sent, there hadn't been any doubts for some time that Navalny was poisoned.

Protesters in Berlin in August 2020: "A significant influence on the formation of public opinion to the detriment of confidence in our democracy." Foto: Screenshot / DER SPIEGEL


The email also discusses rules for articles about Crimea, which was annexed by Russia. 

"With regard to Crimea, we do not speak of an annexation,” the message states. "We refer to reintegration or we write around the process.” That is "once again very important for ALL, including those who were not present today,” the message says.

RT DE reports frequently about the annexation and writes, for example, about "the non-violent reintegration of Crimea into the Russian Federation in accordance with the will of the people.” 

The United Nations estimates that more than 13,000 people have died so far in the war in Ukraine, which began a few weeks after the occupation of Crimea.

When asked to comment, RT DE confirmed the authenticity of the message and defended the instructions.

In general, staff in Berlin are required to abide by Moscow’s wishes. "If we want to request high-level representatives, we should do so in coordination with our RT colleagues,” reads one message from December. A staff member is Moscow is responsible for handling such inquiries.

The message was triggered by a request from RT DE to interview Vladimir Chizhov, the Russian ambassador to the European Union. The request from Berlin was sent to Brussels from Moscow, though the interview ultimately didn't take place.

RT DE said in response to a query that the instructions were in place "to ensure a speedy, uniform and straightforward process.”

Some of the German staff are clearly completely in line with the Kremlin. One of RT DE’s first employees, Yasmine P., still works for the platform today. In 2004, she gave an interview and said that Vladimir Putin "has very truthful views of the world – he addresses and explains many problems that others simply hush up.” 

She seems to be quite taken by the Russian president. That same year, Yasmine P. published a Compact Edition book dedicated to Putin together with the extreme right-wing publisher Jürgen Elsässer, whose Compact magazine is now under observation by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency.

In general, staff in Berlin are required to abide by Moscow's wishes.

One high-ranking RT DE staffer, Sebastian Range, wrote articles for the conspiracy theory magazine Hintergrund (Background) for years. His name is still listed on the website's masthead. Some of his articles on the website promulgated wild theories about 9/11.

Florian Warweg, who, like Range, is a so-called "final editor” at RT DE, has been with the platform since the year of its founding. He used to be active with the far-left Left Party in Berlin’s Neukölln neighborhood, but these days, he’s best known for making a show of himself at the Federal Press Conference, the location where many important government- and policy-related press briefings are held in Berlin. And for his cynical tweets. 

In September, for example, he posted a photo showing Navalny surrounded by his family in a hospital bed at Charité Hospital in Berlin. He captioned it: "We present what is said to be the 'deadliest nerve agent’ in the world: Novichok as a beauty treatment – whether for Yulia #Skripal or now #Navalny."

Yulia Skripal was poisoned with Novichok in the UK in 2018 along with her father, former Russian intelligence colonel and later defector Sergei Skripal. Both barely survived the attack, and Navalny shared a similar fate last year. Russian intelligence services have been blamed for the poison attacks.

When asked about the three employees, RT DE wrote: Care has been taken to ensure there are "diverse opinions and views on our team.” Employees are required to adhere to "strict editorial standards and our commitment to objectivity and balance.” 

Apart from that, the media organization said that it does not comment on the private lives of its employees as a matter of principle.

In addition to staff, freelance writers also work for the platform, and they often comment on current events. These "guest editorials and opinion pieces don’t necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff,” the website states. In practice, though, items posted on the website seldom deviate from the company line.

They include, for example, people like conflict researcher and Russia proponent Leo Ensel, or Rainer Rupp, who in East Germany spied on NATO under the codename "Topas” on behalf of the Stasi secret police. 

Karin Kneissl, the former Austrian foreign minister and member of the right-wing populist Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ), who Putin danced with when he attended her wedding in 2018, also contributes to RT DE. 

Other writers come from intellectual backgrounds that fall somewhere between the German Communist Party and the Marxist Junge Welt newspaper in Germany.

This does not discourage all German officials and politicians from speaking to reporters who work for RT DE. Rainer Wendt, for example, the controversial national head of the German Police Union, seems to have no reservations about the outlet and often provides comments on domestic security issues. 

So does Horst Teltschik, once a confidant to German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and former chairman of the respected Munich Security Conference. 

Or Matthias Schepp, chairman of the board of the German-Russian Chamber of Commerce and a former DER SPIEGEL journalist.

Of the German political parties, however, it is primarily members of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) who like to lend their voices to RT DE. 

Be it party leader Tino Chrupalla, the right-wing extremist head of the AfD chapter in Thuringia Björn Höcke, or Waldemar Herdt, an ardent Russia fan and member of the federal parliament, all are welcome interviewees on the platform. 

When AfD politicians met with representatives of the Putin-backed Assad regime in Syria in 2019, RT DE provided fitting coverage of the event. AfD representatives didn't answer questions submitted to the party about its contacts with RT DE.

German politician Sahra Wagenknecht of the far-left Left Party Foto: Screenshot / DER SPIEGEL


But RT DE is even more popular among elements of the Left Party, some roots of which lead back to the East German communist party. Andrej Hunko, the European policy point man for the party in German parliament is happy to make himself available, and he has the appropriate political positions - on NATO, on Venezuela and on the United States. 

He’s not the only one in his parliamentary group: Indeed, Kremlin-critical representatives refer to Hunko and Left Party colleagues like Sahra Wagenknecht, Alexander Neu, Zaklin Nastic and Diether Dehm as the "RT Faction.” The Left Party even hired away a journalist who was with RT DE. 

He now works in the party's media and public relations department in the Bundestag. 

When contacted for comment, the press office wrote back that it complies with employee data protection and thus can’t answer any questions about him.

Dehm seems to be closest to the platform. Weltnetz TV, an internet project he founded with others, featured an interview with then-Editor-in-Chief Rodionov just in time for the 2014 launch of RT Deutsch in Germany. 

One of Dehm’s co-founders at Weltnetz TV was also a shareholder at the time in another media company, Salve.tv. The regional television station in Thuringia began syndicating a show from RT Deutsch ("Der fehlende Part") in 2015 and made headlines across Germany. 

Dehm had also been in business with a former shareholder of Salve.tv for years. Dehm left a request for comment unanswered.

When asked how important the pro-Kremlin platform is for the party’s public relations work, Left Party leaders Katja Kipping and Bernd Riexinger responded: "RT DE doesn’t play a major role in the party’s media and public relations.”

Politicians from other parties have also spoken to RT, including Economics Minister Peter Altmaier and Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, both from Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Katarina Barley and Sigmar Gabriel of the center-left Social Democrats and Wolfgang Kubicki of the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP). 

Overall, though, all parties aside from the AfD and the Left Party are far more cautious in their approach to the propaganda channel.

A spokesperson for the national chapter of the FDP, for example, says that headquarters has decided not to respond to inquiries from RT DE for the time being. 

She says that RT DE produces "state-directed PR under the fig leaf of purported journalistic neutrality.” It poses "a danger to the quality and factuality of our political discourse.”

The CDU said that it responds to all media inquiries. The party adds, however: "We don’t see Russia Today as a news channel.” 

The conservative party says the broadcaster’s aim is "obviously disinformation and one-sided reporting.” It is not a trustworthy source, the party added.

Meanwhile, Markus Blume, the general secretary of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party to the CDU, says: "RT doesn’t produce in journalism – it engages in targeted disinformation.” 

He then adds, "We need to buttress our democracy and democratic discourse against that kind of influence from abroad.”

The Social Democrats say they have virtually no contact with the broadcaster. 

The SPD does, though deal with the broadcaster. Uli Grötsch, an SPD parliamentarian focused on domestic affairs and a member of the parliamentary committee that has oversight of intelligence matters, says that RT DE has been a focus for himself and the Bundestag for years. 

He says "the relevant parliamentary bodies focus intensively on Russian interference." Parliament takes the problem "very seriously and is constantly discussing suitable countermeasures,” he says.

The Greens are also "cautious” about requests from the platform, a spokesman says. The party’s media policy coordinator in parliament, Margit Stumpp, says the Kremlin-backed broadcaster’s announcement that it will soon broadcast around the clock is "bad news for Germany as a democracy.” 

In the long term, Stumpp sees "a significant influence on the formation of public opinion to the detriment of confidence in our democracy.”

So far, however, RT DE has not attempted to obtain a broadcasting license. The media organization hasn’t applied in either Berlin or Brandenburg, says a spokesperson for the Medienanstalt Berlin-Brandenburg, the authority responsible for broadcast licenses in the two states. 

But there is still plenty of time left before the planned launch in December and an application could likely still be reviewed in that timeframe if it were submitted by this summer.

The main question is how RT DE intends to circumvent Germany’s Interstate Broadcasting Treaty. The law prohibits broadcasting operations by state agencies in Germany. 

There are, however, loopholes. One option would be to move to another country. A license from another European Union member state would make it possible to broadcast into Germany.

DER SPIEGEL learned in its reporting that the German authorities are therefore in close contact with their colleagues in other EU countries. 

The Threats to Recovery

Many of the monetary and fiscal measures in advanced economies over the past 12 months were necessary and unavoidable. But as policymakers eye a possible recovery in 2021-22, they must be vigilant about the side effects of prolonged stimulus.

William R. Rhodes, Stuart P.M. Mackintosh



NEW YORK – Over the past year, rich-country governments and central banks have provided unprecedented fiscal and monetary stimulus to help mitigate the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Getting back to economic normalcy – whatever modified form that takes in 2021 and 2022 – will require advanced economies to start weaning themselves off official support before too long, and thereby avoid dangerous new complications.

On the monetary-policy front, central banks around the world did whatever was necessary to calm financial markets when the pandemic struck in the spring of 2020. 

They have since maintained a highly supportive stance, with historically low and in some cases negative real policy rates. 

Monetary policymakers reused and enlarged existing tools, and fashioned new ones as needed.

These crucial efforts have greatly inflated major central banks’ balance sheets. 

In December 2020, the combined assets of the US Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, the Bank of Japan, and the People’s Bank of China stood at a staggering $28.6 trillion. 

The ECB accounted for $8.5 trillion of this total, and the Fed $7.3 trillion, while the BOJ and the PBOC had total assets of $6.8 trillion and $5.9 trillion, respectively.

Likewise, advanced-economy governments have pursued historically aggressive fiscal policies, casting aside spending restraints to provide broad and largely indiscriminate support to many who needed and deserved it. 

The Group of Thirty estimates that direct fiscal support for firms, employees, and the unemployed during the COVID-19 crisis now exceeds $12 trillion globally. 

That assistance, supported by a broad political consensus, has prevented a great depression and widespread hardship.

Many of these emergency measures were necessary and unavoidable. But as policymakers eye a possible recovery in 2021-22, they must be vigilant about the side effects of prolonged monetary and fiscal stimulus. 

The United States and other rich countries face several risks as they try to rehabilitate and refashion their economies.

For starters, the current equity high could quickly turn into a nasty headache as policy stimulus fades. 

Equities have been on a tear, fueled by huge liquidity flows and easy money, with yield-hungry investors piling into risk assets.

Moreover, markets implicitly understand that central banks currently stand behind most asset classes, elevating risk tolerance. 

This helps to explain the recent run-up, wobbly retreat, and subsequent rebound for Bitcoin, and the social media-driven surge that squeezed hedge funds that had been short-selling the retailer GameStop. 

And the craze for special-purpose acquisition companies (SPACs), which raise capital through an initial public offering and then look for private firms to buy, continues unabated.

But it is doubtful that the current equity boom and search for yield can be sustained if policymakers withdraw monetary and fiscal stimulus. 

The resulting market correction may be sharp and painful, and many investors will pay a heavy price.

A second risk relates to corporate pain. 

The extent of state support until now has kept business-closure and bankruptcy rates lower than normal in most advanced economies. 

But as governments and central banks dial back support, as they must, the process of creative destruction will resume among small- and medium-size companies, and even some bigger firms.

Many struggling firms currently being kept afloat by government largesse will not be solvent and sustainable in the post-pandemic economy. Policymakers need to allow them to go bankrupt, be taken over, or close. 

Recognizing this and allowing normal market processes to play out will hurt many companies and employees, and saddle banks with non-performing loans. 

But economies will have to stand the pain, because there is no alternative.

A third danger is that other sources of infection – which central bankers and supervisors may be ill-prepared to tackle – trigger a new economic contagion. 

For example, risks may come from the massive and growing shadow banking sector, which the Financial Stability Board estimates had financial assets in 2018 of $50.9 trillion, equivalent to 13.6% of the global total.

Other threats to economic stability abound, from cyberattacks and artificial-intelligence failures to bond-market stresses and sovereign-debt defaults. 

As economies recover from the pandemic, central bankers and regulators cannot afford to discount emerging new risks in unsupervised financial markets and technologies, or relax their vigilance in supervised sectors.

Lastly, there is the danger of relapse. If we fail to inoculate fully populations outside the core advanced economies against the coronavirus, we risk allowing unvaccinated groups to incubate new strains, leading to new COVID-19 surges. 

Vaccinating the world to avert this scenario would cost an estimated $38 billion – a negligible price to pay for fostering a robust global economic recovery. 

Rich countries must make the necessary funds available and stop hoarding vaccines.

Faced with these risks, policymakers in the advanced economies must be mindful of the side effects of their aggressive monetary and fiscal measures. 

Their task will be even harder if G20 governments – led by the US – fail to commit the modest resources needed to inoculate the world against COVID-19. We simply cannot afford repeated relapses, pandemic surges, and economic standstills.


William R. Rhodes, a former Chairman, CEO, and President of Citibank, is President and CEO of William R. Rhodes Global Advisors, LLC and author of Banker to the World: Leadership Lessons from the Front Lines of Global Finance.

Stuart P.M. Mackintosh is Executive Director of the Group of Thirty.