Scholz promises inquiry after Russia publishes tapped military discussions


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German chancellor Olaf Scholz has promised a full investigation after Russia published a recording of a phone call between senior German air force officers in which they appeared to discuss supplying missiles to Ukraine. 

Speaking on the sidelines of a meeting with Pope Francis in Rome, Scholz described the incident as a “very serious affair”. “It will be investigated very carefully, intensively and quickly,” he said. “It is also necessary to do so.”

Politicians from parties in Scholz’s coalition expressed concern that Russia may have eavesdropped on other sensitive conversations, and that government communications may no longer be adequately protected. 

On Friday Margarita Simonyan, head of Russian state broadcaster RT, posted a recording on her Telegram channel in which the head of the Luftwaffe, Ingo Gerhartz, discussed the possibility of deploying German Taurus missiles in Ukraine with other senior officers. In the 30-minute conversation they also discussed whether Ukraine could attack Russian targets without the participation of German soldiers, and how many missiles could be delivered to Ukraine.

Scholz has so far refused to deliver Tauruses to Kyiv.

According to German news agency DPA, the officers were speaking on the Webex conference platform.

The German defence ministry said: “According to our assessment, a Luftwaffe conversation was tapped. We cannot say for sure whether changes were made to the recorded or transcribed version that is circulating on social media.”

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov spoke on Saturday about the German armed forces’ “cunning plans” which “became apparent due to the publication of this audio recording”.

There was shock in Berlin that the security of army communications had been compromised in such a flagrant way, with many senior politicians demanding root-and-branch reform of Germany’s counter-espionage capabilities.

Konstantin von Notz, a senior Green MP, said it must be swiftly established if the “eavesdropping scandal is a one-time event or a structural problem”.

He said the incident might necessitate a “radical shift” in the assessment of the risks facing sensitive government communications.

Roderich Kiesewetter, defence policy spokesman for the opposition Christian Democrats, told public broadcaster ARD the incident was “likely [to be] just the tip of the iceberg”.

The eavesdropped conversation was part of preparations for a briefing for defence minister Boris Pistorius. It dealt with whether Taurus cruise missiles would be capable of hitting the Kerch bridge that connects the Russian mainland with Crimea, which was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014.

The officers also discussed whether Ukraine could attack the bridge without the participation of German soldiers, and how many missiles could be delivered to Ukraine. The officers are heard to say that there was no green light from Germany’s political leadership to allow the delivery of the Tauruses to Ukraine.

Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, head of the Bundestag defence committee, told the news agency RND that the Russians were trying to scare Scholz off from allowing the delivery of Taurus missiles. 

Espionage was, she said, “an element in the toolbox of Russia’s hybrid warfare”. It wasn’t surprising, she added, that conversations were being tapped. “It was just a question of time when it would become public,” she said.

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