Germany accuses Russia of seeking to divide Europe with leaked call


  • World
  • Monday, 04 Mar 2024

Russia's Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov answers a question during a meeting with journalists in Vladivostok, Russia, in this picture released September 12, 2023. Sputnik/Alexander Vilf/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

BERLIN (Reuters) -Germany accused Russia on Monday of leaking an intercepted recording of German military discussions about how to support Ukraine against the Kremlin's invasion in an attempt to divide Europe.

Russian media last week published an audio recording of a meeting of senior German military officials held by Webex discussing weapons for Ukraine and a potential strike by Kyiv on a bridge in Crimea.

Germany has confirmed the authenticity of the 38-minute call, saying it is investigating what it called an apparent act of eavesdropping by Russia that was part of an "information war".

Participants in the call discuss the possible delivery of Taurus cruise missiles to Kyiv, which Chancellor Olaf Scholz has publicly rejected. They also discuss how France and Britain are delivering and operating their own cruise missiles with shorter ranges.

While there has been little public response so far from allies, analysts say the recording is likely to strain ties given it is another major security breach and reveals the extent of German reluctance to get too involved in the war.

"This hybrid attack aimed to generate insecurity and divide us," a government spokesman said on Monday. "And that is exactly what we will not allow. We are in constant contact with our partners."

Moscow accuses the "collective West" of using Ukraine to wage a proxy war against Russia. NATO says it is helping Ukraine to defend itself against a war of aggression.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told reporters the leak was a matter for Germany to investigate and Britain would continue to work with Germany to support Ukraine.

Still, he added that Britain was the first country to provide long-range precision strike missiles to Ukraine "and we would encourage our allies to do the same".

Tobias Ellwood, a Conservative lawmaker and former chair of the parliamentary defence committee, told the BBC's Radio Four Today programme said Russia had probably not learned anything it did not already know through the leak, given its vast spy operations.

"That doesn't prevent some serious conversations taking place in the diplomatic corridors between Germany and Britain and indeed NATO, as well as to why this happened in the first place," he said.

Germany has suffered a few embarrassing security leaks of late - authorities arrested a German Foreign Intelligence Service (BND) employee they suspected of spying for Russia in late 2022.

"It is a wake-up call that we are being targeted by (Russian President) Putin," Finance Minister Christian Lindner said on Monday.

GERMAN AMBASSADOR SUMMONED?

The Kremlin said on Monday the recording showed Germany's armed forces were discussing plans to launch strikes on Russian territory, and questioned whether Scholz was in control of the situation.

"The recording itself says that within the Bundeswehr, plans to launch strikes on Russian territory are being discussed substantively and concretely," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

"Here we have to find out whether the Bundeswehr is doing this on its own initiative. Then the question is: how controllable is the Bundeswehr and how much does Scholz control the situation?" Peskov said.

He said both scenarios were "very bad. Both once again emphasise the direct involvement of the countries of the collective West in the conflict around Ukraine".

The German government spokesman called accusations of war preparations "absurd" propaganda.

"The Russians were spooked by Olaf Scholz's U-turn last year on the dispatch of the Leopard 2 battle tanks," analysts at Eurointelligence wrote in a briefing note. "They now want to make sure that he sticks to his line on the Taurus missiles."

Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement it demanded an explanation from Germany's Ambassador Alexander Graf Lambsdorff about the discussion. It did not say how the ambassador responded.

It was the second time in the past week that Moscow has pounced on what it sees as evidence of Western intent to attack Russia directly.

After French President Emmanuel Macron floated the possibility that European nations could send troops to Ukraine, allies of Putin said last week that any French troops would meet death and defeat like Napoleon's soldiers who invaded Russia in 1812.

Putin said in a speech on Thursday that Western countries risked provoking a nuclear war if they sent troops to fight in Ukraine.

(Reporting by Andreas Rinke, Rachel More and Sarah Marsh in Berlin, Alistair Smout and Elizabeth Piper in London and Filipp Lebedev in Tbilisi; Writing by Mark Trevelyan and Sarah Marsh; editing by Timothy Heritage, Nick Macfie and Alex Richardson)

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