AfD lawmakers from a German state are headed on a ?harmless? trip, to the fury Ukraine's ex-ambassador
The Deputy head of the opposition AfD in Germany's Saxony-Anhalt legislature, Hans-Thomas Tillschneider, hit back at Ukraine's ambassador to Berlin, on Monday, after he attacked their planned visit to Donbass.
Andrey Melnik had labelled the group "agents of Russian propaganda," but the politician countered that the diplomat is spreading "fake news."
Several AfD lawmakers intend to visit to make the trip in the coming days. Russia recognises the Lugansk and Donetsk People's Republics as independent states, but Berlin regards them as part of Ukraine.
Melnik, on Sunday tweeted"AfD MPs visit Moscow-occupied eastern Ukraine next week to support [Russia's] war of extermination. This is a criminal offense (incitement to the crime of aggression)," and called on Germany's Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV, also known as Verfassungsschutz), to take action.
He linked to a conspiracy theory-laden report by the US-based Robert Lansing Institute for Global Threats and Democracies Studies claiming "the Kremlin has urged its spies in Western Europe to carry out information and psychological ops" using the AfD lawmakers.
Tillschneider responded to Melnik, calling him an "amateur lawyer, [Stepan] Bandera fan and ex-ambassador" who is "spreading fake news." Bandera was a World War Two Nazi collaborator, who is revered in contemporary Ukraine.
"In view of the distorted and partisan reporting on the Ukraine conflict, we want to get our own picture of the situation and assess the humanitarian situation," Tillschneider added. His colleague Daniel Wald said he would be part of a "harmless delegation trip to Russia and eastern Ukraine."
Melnik has served as Ukraine's ambassador in Berlin since 2015 and is due to leave office later this month.
The exchange drew the attention of German media, which had largely ignored the week-old AfD announcement that six state parliamentarians, from Saxony-Anhalt and North Rhine-Westphalia, would visit Donbass between September 20-28.
German media coverage repeated the Lansing Institute claims that the AfD "coordinates" with Russian intelligence, and that the visit will "promote Russian reading of the situation in the Donbas, with Ukrainian army discredited, and Russia's humanitarian efforts highlighted."
Contacted by the Tagesspiegel, the foreign ministry in Berlin said it had no information about the trip.
The Lansing Institute is named after President Woodrow Wilson's secretary of state at the time of the First World War, and is incorporated in President Joe Biden's home state of Delaware. It does not disclose its funding sources or management, and the report about the AfD visit was not signed. The institute's director general is Armand Chouet, a "former DRM imagery analyst, Paris-based analyst in the field of North Africa region."