Last autumn, around 2,000 Germans held a protest in front of Cologne Cathedral demanding that the government stop helping Ukraine, and stop being an "American vassal state".
The image of ordinary, peaceful protests of Germans who think differently about Russia and Ukraine than their government has gone out into the world.
After all, it was an example of real democracy, nothing unusual for Western Europe.
Except that the two organisers of the Cologne protests were Andrei Kharkovsky and Rostislav Teslyuk.
The latter changed his name to Max Schlund 10 years ago when he moved to Germany from Russia, where he served as an officer in the Russian Air Force.
People like Andrei and Rostislav (Max) lead various civic associations, campaigns, petitions, organise gatherings and protests in Germany, and some lead associations of Cossacks and the notorious, nationalist Night Wolves biker group.
Even more of them have been involved in cyber activities. On social media platforms they work to convince Germans that Russian aggression against Ukraine is justified and that Germany must cooperate with Russia and buy its gas.
They post photos with people from the higher echelons of Russian politics, the military, and the intelligence services.
These people are just part of the Kremlin's long-term investment in tearing apart German democracy, binding Berlin to its own political plans and destroying the unity of the EU and NATO.
The Russian investment also includes a certain Carsten L., a leading intelligence officer in the department of the BND, which deals with technical intelligence, who was arrested last weekб which was the first time we’d ever heard of him.
There is also Arne Schönbohm, the director of the German Federal Office for Information Security, as he maintained links with a similar service in the Russian government.
The Kremlin also probably invested in a German navy commander, Admiral Kay-Achim Schönbach, up until a month before the start of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, when he was dismissed due to an unforgivable political discussion.
He said that Crimea would never be returned to Ukraine and that Putin did not want a war, nor to divide the EU but only wanted "a little respect, which should be given to him".
Several million Russian-speaking people live in Germany. It is the legacy of state unification with the former Soviet colony in the east, but it is also a consequence of the policies of all previous governments, which maintained relations with Russia high on their list of priorities.
At least one of the chancellors who led such a policy, Gerhard Schröder, turned out to be a mercenary for Russian interests in Germany.
Perhaps things will turn out to be similar in the case of Angela Merkel, considering her recent statement that the Minsk agreement was just buying time so that Ukraine was able to better prepare for the final showdown with Russia.
Yet, Putin's massive investments in breaking the unity of the Western Bloc failed in the first days of his aggression against Ukraine. The response of both the EU and NATO was united and brutal, as it is to this day.
The exception is still Germany and the policies of Olaf Scholz's government, with its constant reluctance to help Ukraine more decisively in defending itself against Russian aggression.
Although constantly under strong pressure from the allies to show its teeth and "open their wallets" in proportion to their enormous economic and military power, excuses, fears, and caution towards Moscow have been coming from Berlin for a year now.
This is precisely what Putin has been investing in for years.
When Germany is indecisive, and when it cares more about gas pipelines under the North Sea than about thousands of bombed and killed Ukrainians practically on its borders, then that sends out an important message to other Europeans.
If making sure apartments are a few degrees warmer is more important to great Germany than massive war crimes committed in their neighbourhood, why shouldn't small European states be guided by the same reasoning?
Kyiv is pleading desperately with Berlin to send modern Leopard tanks.
They don't understand the excuses of it being a "heavy" weapon as a result of which Russia could do something bad to Germany.
The head of Ukrainian diplomacy, Dmytro Kuleba, asks honestly: you sent us howitzers, which are heavy weapons, so what is the problem with sending Leopards?
This modern German tank has become a question for the "moment of truth", and Germany’s real position on Russia and its aggression against Ukraine.
That hardware, used by 13 European armies, could be a game-changer on the frozen Ukrainian front.
But it has not left any barracks in Europe or travelled to Ukraine, because Berlin does not allow it.
Chancellor Scholz and his social democrats remained alone in blocking the sending of Leopard tanks to Kyiv.
He said that he has been waiting for agreement with his partners in the government regarding this decision.
Those partners repeated that the tanks should go to Ukraine.
Although Scholz keeps repeating that he has been waiting for the consent of NATO allies for this move, he has had this consent for months.
The American ambassador in Berlin, Amy Gutmann, praised Berlin for supplying weapons to Ukraine, but added "my expectations are even higher".
The pressure on Berlin intensified after France announced that it would be the first Western country to send its light tanks to Ukraine. "France is once again taking on the role that was expected of Germany, and is going ahead alone. Chancellor should finally recognise the sign of the times and follow up," said Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, Scholz's coalition partner from the FDP party and head of the parliamentary defence committee.
Berlin's restraint towards Ukraine is a consequence of Russia's long-term subversive actions in Germany.
But this is also closely related to German expectations that in some post-war arrangement, it will once again be Russia’s first partner in developed Europe.
This calculation also means that cheap gas and coal for Germany continue to influence its view of destruction and casualties in Ukraine.
This is one of Putin's war goals in Ukraine, but also his even greater expectations for the post-war period.
Putin sees today's Germany as part of the spoils from his war, because only such a Germany will provide him with the type of peace arrangements that he dreams of.
These are arrangements that he, and not someone else, will sign on behalf of Russia, which means he is certain that it will be "business as usual" in future.
Until the next reinvasion of Ukraine.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.
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