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Germany caught out by leak of secret Ukraine war talks

BERLIN, Germany, March 4 ------ German Chancellor Olaf Scholz promised a full investigation after a recording of confidential army talks on the Ukraine war was circulated on Russian social media, in a huge embarrassment for Berlin.   


A German defense ministry spokeswoman confirmed to AFP that the ministry believed a conversation in the air force division was "intercepted". "We are currently unable to say for certain whether changes were made to the recorded or transcribed version that is circulating on social media," the spokeswoman said. The head of Russia's state-backed RT channel, Margarita Simonyan, posted Friday the 38-minute audio recording of what she claimed were German army officers discussing potential strikes on Crimea in a February 19 videoconference. 


In the recording, discussions can be heard on the possible use by Ukrainian forces of German-made Taurus missiles and their potential impact. Topics included 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. Kyiv has long been calling on Germany to provide it with Taurus missiles, which can reach targets up to 500 kilometers (300 miles) away. 


Sworn enemies 

Scholz has so far refused to send the missiles, worried that it would lead to an escalation of the conflict. "What is being reported is a very serious matter and that is why it is now being investigated very carefully, very intensively and very quickly," Scholz said during a visit to Rome on Saturday. 


Germany's ARD broadcaster described the leak as a "catastrophe" for the German secret services. According to Der Spiegel magazine, the videoconference was held on the WebEx platform, and not on a secret internal army network. "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. Speaking at a diplomatic forum in Turkey on Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the recording indicated that Ukraine and its backers "do not want to change their course at all, and want to inflict a strategic defeat on Russia on the battlefield". 


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. "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, wrote in a Telegram post. 


Taurus missiles 

The acquisition of German Taurus missiles would provide a massive boost for Ukraine as Kyiv struggles to fend off Russia's invasion. France and Britain have supplied Kyiv with SCALP and Storm Shadow missiles, both of which have a range of about 250 kilometers. But Scholz said last week that Germany could not justify matching 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. Britain denied that it had any direct involvement in operating the missiles. "Ukraine's use of Storm Shadow and its targeting processes are the business of the Armed Forces of Ukraine," a Ministry of Defense spokesperson said in a statement to AFP. 


Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, chair of the defense committee in Germany's parliament, said Moscow's intention was "obvious". Scholz is being "warned against" supplying Ukraine with Taurus missiles, she said. "We urgently need to increase our security and counterintelligence, because we are obviously vulnerable in this area," she told the Funke media group. Roderich Kiesewetter, from Germany's opposition conservatives, warned that further recordings might 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. 




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