Russian leaks of German generals’ conversations: details and possible outcomes

Germany’s supply of long-range Taurus missiles to Ukraine is perhaps the most sensitive issue in Berlin’s relations, not only with Kyiv but also with its Western allies. Journalists have already learned that the UK is putting pressure on Germany to eventually force Chancellor Olaf Scholz to be more decisive.

Inside the German government, where Scholz remains essentially the only opponent of the transfer of these missiles to Ukraine, the fight for their supply to the Ukrainian armed forces is becoming increasingly heated.

Russia leaked recording of internal talks between German Air Force leadership

Late last week, Russia took a desperate step in an attempt to finally disrupt the Taurus delivery by giving away one of its surveillance channels to the German military leadership.

Margarita Simonyan, a top Russian propagandist and RT chief, published an alleged recording of internal negotiations between the German Air Force leadership regarding options for the transfer and parameters for the use of Taurus missiles in Ukraine, including strikes on the Crimean bridge.

Although at first the recordings were not credible, Berlin soon confirmed their authenticity. The German Defense Ministry admitted that such a conversation did take place and was intercepted by the Russians. The German military did not rule out the possibility that the recording and its decoding could have been altered. And Chancellor Scholz called the incident a “very serious” matter and promised a quick investigation. 

This news stunned German society and made them seriously consider the reliability of the protection of classified information, as it became clear that the enemy was listening to conversations that they should not be hearing. 

It is equally important to understand what consequences the leak will have now, when, despite another refusal from Scholz, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed optimism about negotiations with Germany on the supply of Taurus missiles.

38 minutes of secret German military talks 

On Friday morning, Margarita Simonyan published a post on her Telegram channel announcing the publication of an audio recording. “In this interesting recording, high-ranking Bundeswehr officers discuss how they will bomb the Crimean bridge. And how they would do it so cleverly that their Scholz could continue to say that they are for nothing there,” the propagandist wrote. 

Later, she posted a transcript of the allegedly secret conversation between the German military and a 38-minute audio recording.

It is a single conversation in which four German military commanders are allegedly involved. These are the head of the German Air Force, Air Force Inspector General Lieutenant General Ingo Gerhartz, the head of the Operations and Training Department of the Air Force Command in Berlin, Brigadier General Frank Gräfe, and employees of the Air Operations Center of the Space Command, Fenske and Frostedte (there is currently a lack of detailed information about them).

The German press soon clarified, citing its sources, that the talks were not held via a secure line of communication but via the WebEx video conferencing platform. WebEx, developed by the American company Cisco, serves as a Zoom analog without Chinese “roots,” making it a popular choice for the German military.

Frank Gräfe, one of the participants in the conversation, was staying in a hotel room in Singapore at the time, and it is possible that this was a decisive factor in the interception of the negotiations.

Bild suggests that someone could have bugged his room, hacked or tapped his phone, or that he might have connected to an unsecured hotel Wi-Fi network. It’s important to note that although the WebEx platform has the functionality to conduct encrypted conferences, if a subscriber connects to a call by phone, it is not considered reliable.

It appears that the topics discussed were done so using an insufficiently secure means of communication. This, among other things, is the subject of further investigations,” the German Defense Ministry told Bild.

Authenticity of the leaked recording and German Defense Ministry reaction

This statement was one of many in which Berlin directly or indirectly recognized at least the partial authenticity of the leaked talks.

Shortly after the conversation was published, German journalists, citing military sources, claimed that their initial analysis confirmed the authenticity of the recording of the talks.

The official confirmation came from the German Ministry of Defense. “According to our assessment, the conversation between Air Force officials was intercepted. We cannot say with certainty whether the recorded or written version, which is being circulated on social media, has been altered,” said a spokeswoman for the defense ministry.

A German Defense Ministry spokesperson said that the federal military counterintelligence agency, BAMAD, has taken the necessary steps to verify the leak. And then it was time for German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to be outraged.

But his comments made it unclear what exactly the chancellor saw as the main problem, whether it was the wiretapping of the military leadership by the Russians or the content of the conversation, which contradicted his public political position. “What is reported is a very serious matter. And that is why it will now be investigated very carefully, very intensively, and very quickly,” Scholz said.

What the German generals discussed

Before analyzing the possible consequences of the drain, it is important to know the content’s details, so below we will outline the main points of the conversation. However, we should not forget that the German Defense Ministry has not ruled out Russian interference in the recording’s content, such as editing.

Judging by the recording, the purpose of the talks was to prepare a brief report for Defense Minister Boris Pistorius on the potential parameters for the use of Taurus missiles in Ukraine, to assess the main problems and risks, and to determine the need for German military participation in future operations. The latter is worth paying special attention to, as this explanation sounds like a public “argument” against supplying missiles to Ukraine.

According to Air Force Chief Gerhartz, the moment when the supply of these long-range missiles will begin has not yet been determined, and the main obstacle to this is Scholz’s position. “No one knows why the Federal Chancellor is blocking these deliveries,” the general says in the recording. 

However, he does not rule out that the chancellor will give the green light. Analyzing and discussing “what consequences this could lead to” is a significant focus of the conversation.

Discussions on possible Taurus missiles delivery to Ukraine

During the conversation, the four participants also analysed various technical aspects of the missile supply, from delivery methods to the manufacture of missile mounts for their carriers.

Adapting the missiles for installation on Su or F-16 aircraft may take up to six months. General Grefe believes that if the Chancellor decides to deliver the missiles now, they will be ready for use only in eight months. 

Various training scenarios and the potential shortening of the training period are discussed in detail. Gerhartz concludes that the delay in training the Ukrainians should not be overestimated, considering the Ukrainian military’s rapid mastery of the Patriot system.

One of the topics was the potential targets for the missiles and the number of missiles that should be provided to Ukraine; for example, it could be a variant of two tranches of 50 missiles. At the same time, Germany is not going to transfer all Taurus missiles, of which it has about 600 in service.

Targets mentioned include “a bridge in the east and ammunition depots.”

Would Crimean bridge be a target for Taurus?

There is no mention of Crimea in the conversation, but it is no secret that the Ukrainian Armed Forces have already struck the bridge across the Kerch Strait. The German military’s references to the scale of the bridge suggest that this is the bridge in question.

“The bridge in the east is hard to reach; it’s a pretty small target, but the Taurus can do it, and ammunition depots can be hit,” Frostedte allegedly said.

Fenske allegedly admits that it may take “not 10 or even 20 missiles” to hit the bridge, “which is similar to a runway because of its size,” to which Gerhartz, according to the recording, replies that “the Taurus will succeed if it uses the French Dassault Rafale fighter jet.”

Launching missiles without the Bundeswehr

One of the most discussed topics is how the German military will keep in touch with the Ukrainian armed forces. And above all, how to avoid the Bundeswehr’s direct involvement in missile targeting. 

“We need to make sure that from the very beginning there is nothing that makes us a party to the conflict,” Gräfe allegedly said.

One option under discussion involves providing scheduled technical support from Buchel, Germany, where the airbase is located, once a secure connection with Ukraine is established. Or, to send several Bundeswehr representatives to the headquarters of the manufacturer MBDA and use this “trick” to allow politicians to talk directly about the German military’s non-participation in planning tasks. 

Another option is to ask for help from the British, who allegedly “have several people on the ground (in Ukraine)” working with Storm Shadow missiles, while the French, who provided the SCALP missiles, allegedly have no such personnel in Ukraine. This is one of the strangest and most scandalous points of the conversation, as Britain denies that its military is involved in the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ work with missiles.

So far, there have been no clarifications or statements from the Bundeswehr about the authenticity of these theses, which are in line with Russian propaganda. Another noteworthy detail is that German generals insist on the possible “involvement of Germany in the war” even without the presence of the military in Ukraine. 

“We cannot participate in the planning of tasks; do it in Buchel and then send it to them (Ukrainians, ed.); for Germany, this is a red line. You can train them for two months; they will not learn everything, but they will be able to do something,” Gerhartz allegedly said.

Separately, the conversation mentions the problem of strong Russian air defense and the need to “seriously deal with it” because German intelligence may not have accurate data on the location of Russian air defense systems.

Consequences of the leak: pressure on Scholz in Taurus issue?

It is noteworthy that Russian intelligence did not immediately publish the intercepted conversation. Russian propaganda claims (and German sources do not question this) that the conversation took place on February 19.

The publication revealed that the Russian Federation can likely intercept some conversations of high-ranking military officials, so this leak channel will probably be closed. Therefore, Moscow must have had good reasons to publish the article.

Based on this conversation, Russian sources are trying to present Germany as a country that is allegedly ready to directly join the war by helping the Ukrainians destroy the Kerch Bridge. And this is exactly the image that Olaf Scholz wants to avoid most of all, which could potentially make it difficult for the chancellor to approve a decision that is positive for Ukraine. 

Roderich Kiesewetter, a defense expert and Bundestag member from the opposition CDU, believes that someone intentionally leaked the conversation recently to halt the Taurus delivery. In addition, it is clear that Russia is seeking to add even more turbulence and confusion to the already heated debate over missiles. 

“This is a hybrid disinformation attack; it is about division, about undermining our unity. We must not succumb to Putin’s tricks,” Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said on Sunday.

In the ruling coalition, the Greens and Free Democrats have long been pressuring the Social Democrats and Scholz to move forward with the delivery of these weapons, and there have been fierce arguments between the coalition allies.

Public opinion in Germany does not favor the decision: half of the population is against the transfer of missiles, while only 35% are in favor, according to the results of a survey conducted by the INSA sociological institute for the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

It is not difficult to guess why Russian propaganda is now spreading threats against Germany, promising to “remind us how the explosions of Russian bridges ended for Germany last time.” 

The leak refutes the Scholz’s key argument for no-delivery

The Kremlin may find that the consequences of the publication are contrary to their intentions. Until now, Scholz’s main public line of defense has been that it is allegedly necessary to send the German military to Ukraine to target targets, which is unacceptable because it would mean Germany’s direct participation in the war.

Although many politicians have insisted that Scholz’s explanation is false, he continued to stick to it, also hinting that other partners have already crossed the line in terms of their military participation in Ukrainian strikes, but Germany cannot do so due to its constitutional restrictions.

However, the Russian leak of the German secret negotiations, if authentic, proves Scholz’s claims to be false.

The German opposition has already criticized the chancellor in this regard. Florian Hahn, a representative of the CDU/CSU faction on defense policy, wants to summon Scholz for questioning at the next meeting of the defense committee, emphasizing that in the leaked conversation, the Air Force leadership allegedly clearly concluded that Ukraine could use the Taurus without German involvement. 

“This makes it obvious that the Federal Chancellor justified his refusal to provide the Taurus by distorting the facts,” the opposition politician said. 

The opposition is also demanding a parliamentary investigation into the intercepted conversations, pointing out that Russian secret services have already deeply embedded themselves in German communications on the issue.

Obviously, the consequences of the leak could have a decisive impact on further events in the spring and could lead to a change in Scholz’s position on the supply of Taurus to Ukraine.

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