'Very serious': What we know about leaked German army audio recording

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'Very serious': What we know about leaked German army audio recording
German Defence Minister Boris Pistorious (SPD) addressing the leaked audio recording at a press conference on Sunday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

A leaked audio recording of senior German army officers discussing the war in Ukraine has caused a diplomatic firestorm and raised serious questions about the security of German military communications.


Russia declared the recording proves direct involvement of Western countries in the conflict in Ukraine.

Here is what we know about the intercept.

What was leaked?

On March 1st, the head of Russia's state-backed RT channel, Margarita Simonyan, posted a 38-minute audio recording on Telegram of what she said was German army officers discussing potential strikes on Crimea.

The conversation between air force chief Ingo Gerhartz and three high-ranking Bundeswehr officers took place on February 19th, according to Simonyan.

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

READ ALSO: Germany caught out by leak of secret Ukraine war talks

Kyiv has long been calling on Germany to provide it with Taurus missiles, which can reach targets up to 500 kilometres away.

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


What was discussed?

In the recording, the Bundeswehr officers can be heard discussing various details about the possible use of Taurus missiles, including specific quantities.

At one point, they speculate as to whether the missiles could be used to hit a key bridge over the Kerch strait linking the Russian mainland to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.

The conversation also turns to long-range missiles supplied to Ukraine by France and Britain, with one of the officers referring to British soldiers on the ground.

The British Prime Minister's Office has said "a small number of personnel" are on the ground in Ukraine to provide security for diplomats and support

Ukrainian troops, including medics, but declined to comment on operational matters.

According to the British defence ministry, "Ukraine's use of Storm Shadow (missile) and its targeting processes are the business of the Armed Forces of Ukraine".

A Ukrainian diplomatic source has also said that "all the European secret services are present in Ukraine -- but they are not combat units."

The source added that when allies supply Kyiv with armaments, "experts are on the ground" to help with training and usage.

This file picture from 2017 shows a Taurus long-range air-to-surface missile during a media day presentation in Pyeongtaek, South Korea

This file picture from 2017 shows a Taurus long-range air-to-surface missile during a media day presentation in Pyeongtaek, South Korea. Ukraine has requested similar weapons from Germany, but Germany has yet to deliver them. Photo: JUNG Yeon-Je / AFP

How was it leaked?

The meeting was held on WebEx, a popular public platform for audio and video meetings.

According to Defence Minister Boris Pistorius, the platform is legitimately used by the Bundeswehr for certain meetings, with extra security measures.

"The reason the phone call could still be recorded... is due to an individual user error," said Scholz on Tuesday.

Pistorius said he had telephoned allies over the leak and was reassured that their "trust in Germany is unbroken".

"Everyone knows about the danger of such wiretapping attacks and knows that no one can offer 100-percent protection."

Pistorius said Tuesday that the German military's use of the popular meeting platform WebEx was legitimate, while "extra security" measures were in place.

One of the participants, who was attending the Singapore Airshow, had however dialled into the meeting via an "unauthorised connection" leading to the intercept, Pistorius said.

With several senior military officials in attendance at the show from different countries, the event would have been a "field day" for Russian intelligence, he said.

The hotels where attendees at the event were staying would have been targeted by "widespread wiretapping efforts", he added.


What does it mean for Scholz?

The scandal exposes a breach in security that Scholz himself described as "very serious" and risks sowing disunity with Britain and France.

Thorsten Frei, who heads the opposition conservatives' parliamentary group, told Welt TV that the intercept raises questions about Germany's reliability.

The conversation also casts doubt on the reasons Scholz has publicly given for refusing to send Taurus missiles to Ukraine.

Scholz has argued that Germany could not justify matching British and French moves in sending long-range missiles to Ukraine and supporting their deployment.

But according to the leaked recording, there is no reason why Taurus missiles could not be operated without any direct help from German soldiers.

READ ALSO: Ukraine says Germany 'wasting time' on missile decision

How has Russia responded?

The Kremlin said on Monday that the content of the recording proved Western countries were participating in the conflict in Ukraine.

"The recording itself suggests that the Bundeswehr is discussing substantively and specifically plans to strike Russian territory," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, now deputy head of the Security Council, wrote in a Telegram post that "Germany is preparing for war with Russia".


What has Germany said?

According to German experts, almost everything discussed in the recording would already have been known to Russia.

Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, chair of the defence committee in Germany's parliament, said Moscow had deliberately leaked the recording in an attempt to stop Germany from supplying Ukraine with Taurus missiles.

Pistorius has warned that the leak is "part of an information war that Putin is carrying out".

A government spokesman on Monday dismissed claims Germany was preparing for war with Russia as "absurd... Russian propaganda".

Pistorius said there may be internal disciplinary proceedings as a result of the breach, but no one would be fired.


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