Does the Russian media know more than the German police? "Ethnic Russians attack refugee shelter in Germany," the Moscow-based tabloid Sovershenno Sekretno (Top Secret) reported last week.

The report claimed that because the German authorities were helpless against refugees, some 400 ethnic Russians armed with baseball bats had taken matters into their own hands and attacked a shelter in the south-western city of Bruchsal.

The story has been hugely exaggerated. According to police, four men had smashed a window of a refugee shelter in the neighbouring town of Karlsdorf-Neuthard on January 16, causing 300 euros worth of damage.

Reports such as this one are becoming more common, however. Russian media have been depicting Germany as a country close to breakdown ever since the attacks on hundreds of women in Cologne on New Year's Eve, many of which are said to have been committed by men of North African origin.

"The events in Cologne have divided (German) society," reports TV broadcaster Rossiya24. "Fewer and fewer people believe that the migrants don't pose a threat." Vigilante groups are a normal occurrence, it says.

The propaganda message of the Kremlin-controlled media seems to be that Europe is weak and unsafe since its invasion by foreigners.

"Either they stop new migration, or Europe will go down," nationalist politician Vladimir Shirinovsky told the tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda.

President Vladimir Putin's Russia looks great in comparison, even though the rouble is dropping, incomes are falling and the country is at war both in Syria and in Ukraine, though it has denied the latter.

The larger Russian TV stations have a huge influence on the public, not just in Russia. They are also watched by many of the 2.3 million people with roots in the former Soviet Union who now live in Germany. Some of the reports seem as if they had been produced to stir up hatred and violence among ethnic Russians.

There is, for instance, the case of a 13-year-old girl from Berlin who was recently reported missing. Russia's most important news programme, Westi, claimed the girl had been kidnapped and raped by refugees.

The story caused a stir on the Russian-language web. Repeated statements from Berlin police that there was no evidence of either a kidnapping or a rape were ignored.

Russian media claim that the German police has been advised to keep crimes committed by refugees secret, not unlike rightist movements such as Pegida in Germany.

The website of Moscow-based commercial broadcaster REN TV uses phrases like "sex migrants" or "guest sexuals" in headlines related to Cologne. Reports on the New Year's Eve attacks are illustrated with images that might have been taken at demonstrations in Cairo in 2011.

According to a Russian saying, a person who deceives or lies to someone is "hanging pasta over his ears." The Moscow-based former news editor Alexei Kovalyov and his colleagues have therefore called themselves "pasta removers," as they are attempting to detect fakes and untruths in the Russian media.

They also did some research on what happened in Bruchsal and Berlin. "Apparently, the Russian propaganda machine urgently needs some stories to divert attention from other things," they write on their blog.

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