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Germany accuses Moscow of ‘disinformation attack’ in leaking senior officers’ call

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Russia obtained a call by German officers discussing a hypothetical export of Taurus cruise missiles to Ukraine.

Russia used the leak of a confidential call between top German military officers as part of an “information war” to destabilize the country, Germany’s Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said Sunday.

The 38-minute recording first emerged on Friday, published by Russia’s state media RT and later confirmed by the German government. In it, four senior Bundeswehr officers, reportedly including Air Force chief Ingo Gerhartz and Brigadier General Frank Gräfe, discuss the hypothetical export of Taurus cruise missiles to Ukraine and how they could be used to attack Russian infrastructure.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has steadfastly refused to send Kyiv such long-range cruise missiles — unlike the British and the French who have sent their own alternatives — and it’s an issue that is splintering the country’s governing coalition.

Pistorius said Sunday that the conversation by the officers does not mean a “green light” to send the missiles to Ukraine.

The contents of the leaked call — held on the WebEx platform, rather than through the army’s secure internal network — has raised eyebrows, but Pistorius said it is all part of Moscow’s effort to sow division.

“It’s a hybrid disinformation attack — it’s about division, it’s about undermining our unity,” Pistorius said, adding: “We mustn’t fall for Putin.”

Achtung Taurus

During the conversation, which the Russians say took place on Feb. 19, the officials discussed potential targets for any Taurus missiles donated to Ukraine, and the length of time it would take to train local personnel on targeting. The officers discussed how the missiles could be used to destroy a bridge, apparently referring to the Kerch bridge linking occupied Crimea to mainland Russia.

The officers also discuss preparations for a meeting with Pistorius, touching on how many Taurus missiles would be required to evade Russia’s air defenses and destroy the Kerch connection — a number they put at 10 to 20 missiles from Germany’s estimated 600-strong stockpile.

They also discuss ways to transport the data required to program Taurus from airbases in Germany into Ukraine, but are also clear that from a military standpoint missile deliveries wouldn’t change the outcome of the war anyway.

Germany’s Military Counterintelligence Service is investigating the leaked audio, but the timing is embarrassing for Berlin given it comes just days after Scholz inferred publicly — to the displeasure of many in London — that British and French staff are helping calibrate missile targets for the Ukrainians.

Pistorius, who also hails from Scholz’s Social Democrats, said the timing of the publication of the leaked audio was suspicious.

“Nobody believes it’s a coincidence that this audio was published shortly before the weekend, the day after [opposition leader Alexei] Navalny’s funeral,” said Pistorious.

The leak has sparked a debate on Germany’s security measures and its strategic position in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, with Pistorious saying that more time is needed before it can be definitively decided if rules had been broken.

He also said it would “far too much” to immediately draw personnel consequences at this time.

Others were quicker to draw conclusions.

“Heads must roll now,” a former high-ranking Bundeswehr officer told POLITICO on condition of anonymity. “Conducting such a highly confidential conversation over an unsecured line is grossly negligent.”