Chief of Staff of the German Air Force, Lieutenant General Ingo Gerhartz, speaks during a press conference on the NATO Air Defender 2023 exercise at the house of the Federal Press Conference (Bundespressekonferenz) in Berlin, Germany, 07 June 2023. EPA-EFE/CLEMENS BILAN


Russian leak leaves Berlin squirming and everyone asking: Is there more?


A leaked recording of an online conversation between high-ranking German generals discussing the possible delivery of Taurus missiles to Ukraine is causing major headaches in Berlin.

On March 1, Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the Russian state-controlled RT media group, posted audio of the discussion between the German Air Force Chief Commander General Ingo Gerhartz and Brigadier General Frank Graefe, Head of Air Force Operations, along with two other military officers.

For 38 minutes, the Bundeswehr military top brass talked about the supply to Ukraine of Taurus KEPD 350s, German-Swedish air-launched cruise missiles, and relevant technical support should German Chancellor Olaf Scholz approve the move.

During the meeting, it was discussed that the missiles should be aimed at targets including the Kerch Bridge, which connects the Russian mainland to Crimea and which the Kremlin annexed in 2014.

The head of the Luftwaffe also claimed British troops were already “on the ground” in Ukraine.

During the conversation, one of the participants discussed sending further information via WhatsApp, which would be in breach of security measures.

Russia has seized on the tapes to point the finger at the West.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the discussions “once again highlight the direct involvement of the collective West in the conflict in Ukraine”.

Scholz called the incident “a very serious matter” and Germany’s NATO partners are also said to be concerned.

The German defence minister Boris Pistorius referred to a potential “hybrid attack” by Russia, which he said would have the goal of “undermining resolve”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was waging an “information war” against Germany, he said.

In Germany, the episode has caused serious concerns across political lines.

Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, Chairwoman of the Defence Committee in the Bundestag and member of the liberal FDP party, said: “We urgently need to increase our security and counter-intelligence because we are obviously vulnerable in this area.”

There is a strong possibility Russians have more material and Germany has a structural security issue, it is believed.

A spokeswoman for the German defence ministry said on March 2 that the Military Counter-intelligence Service had “initiated all necessary measures” to deal with the issue.

She added that it had yet to be clarified whether the officers were allowed to talk about the content and whether they had chosen the correct means of communication – in this case the popular US-run WebEx tool.

August Hanning, a former chief of the intelligence service BND, told German newspaper BILD: “Normally, successful wire-tapping operations are not made public so as not to harm the source.

“This leak could have been just the tip of the iceberg,” he said, adding he assumed the Russians could have “much more wire-tapped material”.

According to British Kremlin specialist Neil Barnett, Moscow is probably far more knowledgeable than most assume, BILD reported.

“Moscow is likely to have far more knowledge. Berlin has to be prepared for more leaks in the coming weeks and months,” Barnett warned.

The Kremlin’s objective was to sway German public opinion and pit the Allies against one another in the West, he added.

German Christian Democratic Union defence expert Roderich Kiesewetter said: “It is highly likely that other members of the Federal Government and the ministries were wire-tapped, including the Chancellor and his immediate entourage.”

The delivery of the Taurus missiles to Ukraine has been a divisive issue in Germany for some time.

Scholz has opposed such, primarily invoking “technical” reasons.

He stated that the collaboration of German soldiers in target management would be necessary for Ukraine to effectively utilise the Taurus missiles. Scholz has said he worried that could mean Germany might become directly involved in the conflict in Ukraine.

Officials from the main opposition party, the Christian Democrats, and representatives of the coalition partners Greens and FDP, are fervently supportive of the Taurus ammunitions being despatched to Ukraine.

Military expert Carlo Masala at the University of the Federal Armed Forces in Munich suggested that the leak might be a “deliberate move” to put the final nail in the coffin for a possible delivery of Taurus missiles to Ukraine,

The subject now seems to have become “too sensitive” an issue, he said.