German army probes possible wiretap of Ukraine war talks

AFP , Saturday 2 Mar 2024

The German defence ministry said Saturday it was checking whether a confidential videoconference on the Ukraine war had been wiretapped after a recording was posted on Russian social media, in a potentially huge embarrassment for Berlin.

Ukraine war
Kyiv has long been clamouring for Germany to provide it with Taurus missiles, which can reach targets up to 500 kilometres (about 300 miles) away. AFP


The head of Russia's state-backed RT channel, Margarita Simonyan, on Friday posted a 38-minute audio recording of what she said were German army officers discussing striking Crimea.

"We are investigating whether communications in the air force sector were intercepted," a spokeswoman for the German defence ministry told AFP.

In the recording, discussions can be heard on the possible use by Ukrainian forces of German-made Taurus missiles and their potential impact.

Topics include aiming the missiles at targets such as a key bridge over the Kerch strait linking the Russian mainland to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.

The discussions also cover the use of missiles provided to Kyiv by France and Britain.

Experts consulted by Der Spiegel magazine said they believed the recording was authentic.

Kyiv has long been clamouring for Germany to provide it with Taurus missiles, which can reach targets up to 500 kilometres (about 300 miles) away.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has so far refused to send the missiles, fearing that it would lead to an escalation of the conflict.

"If this story turns out to be true, it would be a highly problematic event," Green party politician Konstantin von Notz told the RND broadcaster.

"The question arises as to whether this is a one-off incident or a structural safety problem," he added.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova demanded that Germany "promptly" provide explanations for the discussion.

"Attempts to avoid answering the questions will be regarded as an admission of guilt," she said.

'Sworn enemies'

"Our age-old rivals -- the Germans -- have again turned into our sworn enemies," former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, now deputy head of the Security Council and the foreign ministry, wrote in a Telegram post.

"Look, with what thoroughness and in such detail the (Germans) discuss striking our territory with long-range missiles, choose targets to hit and discuss how to inflict the maximum harm to our motherland and our people," he said.

France and Britain have supplied Kyiv with SCALP or Storm Shadow missiles, both of which have a range of about 250 kilometres.

But Scholz said last week that Germany could not copy British and French moves in sending long-range missiles to Ukraine and supporting the weapon system's deployment.

"This is a very long-range weapon, and what the British and French are doing in terms of targeting and supporting targeting cannot be done in Germany," Scholz said, without specifying exactly what he meant.

Roderich Kiesewetter, from Germany's opposition conservatives, warned that further recordings may also be leaked.

"A number of other conversations will certainly have been intercepted and may be leaked at a later date for Russia's benefit," he told broadcaster ZDF.

It can be assumed "that the conversation was deliberately leaked by Russia at this point in time with a specific intention", namely "to prevent Taurus delivery by Germany", he said.

According to Der Spiegel, the videoconference was held not on a secret internal army network but on the WebEx platform.

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