Angela Merkel threatened Russia with consequences yesterday on Wednesday as she accused Vladimir Putin’s intelligence services of hacking her emails.
“We always reserve the right to take measures, including against Russia,” Mrs Merkel told the German parliament.
Germany has “hard evidence” Russian intelligence was behind a 2015 hacking attack in which her emails were compromised, she said.
It was the first official confirmation of claims that have been extensively reported by the German press in recent days.
“I can honestly say that it pains me,” Mrs Merkel said, voicing her frustration at what she called Russia’s “outrageous” behaviour.
“Every day I try to build a better relationship with Russia, and on the other hand there is hard evidence that Russian forces are doing this.”
The allegations centre on a 2015 hacking attack on the German parliament’s internal computer system in which several MPs’ email accounts were compromised.
It emerged last week in a report in Spiegel magazine that one of Mrs Merkel’s email accounts was among those affected.
German prosecutors issued an international arrest warrant against a Russian hacker named as Dmitri Badin last week.
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German media have reported extensively that Badin is believed to have been working on behalf of Russia’s GRU military intelligence service.
Mrs Merkel confirmed the reports as she answered parliamentary questions. “I take these things very seriously because I believe this has been very thoroughly investigated,” she said.
“There is a hybrid warfare strategy by Russia we can’t ignore that includes cyber attacks, disorientation and manipulation of facts.
“I will work for a good relationship with Russia because I think there’s good reason to continue these diplomatic efforts. But of course this doesn’t make it easy.”
Sensitive government communications are not believed to have been affected by the attack, which targeted an email account used by Mrs Merkel's parliamentary constituency office.
But the incident is embarrassing for Germany and could prove deeply damaging to relations with Russia.
It comes only months after Germany expelled two Russian diplomats and accused the Kremlin of failing to cooperate with investigations into the killing of a Georgian man in Berlin.
In what has been called a “second Skripal case”, German prosecutors are reportedly convinced Russian intelligence was behind the killing of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a Georgian who fought against Russia in the Chechnya war.
Khangoshvili was shot dead in a central Berlin park in broad daylight. A Russian national is being held over the killing but proescutors reportedly believe he was acting on behalf of the Kremlin.
Mrs Merkel has worked hard to develop a relationship with Mr Putin and is generally considered to have more influence with him than most Western leaders.
It was she who faced off with him in all-night talks to defuse the Ukraine crisis in 2015, and the two leaders have repeatedly sparred over the years.
Mr Putin famously had a dog brought into the room to unnerve Mrs Merkel during talks in 2007 — the German chancellor was badly bitten as a child and is nervous of dogs.
But it was she who had the last laugh, telling journalists after the incident: “I understand why he has to do this — to prove he’s a man. He’s afraid of his own weakness. Russia has nothing, no successful politics or economy. All they have is this.”
Russian intelligence is not the first to be caught spying against Mrs Merkel. Relations with Washington were shaken in 2013 after it emerged in secrets revealed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had tapped Mrs Merkel’s mobile phone.
It was also claimed in 2013 that Britain was using the roof its embassy in Berlin to house a covert listening station to monitor nearby German government departments, including Mrs Merkel’s offices.