Germany and Russia spar over a leaked audio on missiles for Ukraine. Berlin promises to investigate

FILE - German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius addresses the media during a press statement in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, March 3, 2024. The German government on Monday vehemently rejected allegations that Russia's leak of a conversation by high-ranking German military officers was an indication that Germany was preparing a war against Russia, while at the same time it sought to contain the domestic fallout from the leak and promised a quick investigation into how it was possible that a conversation by top German military personnel could be intercepted and published. (Michael Kappeler/dpa via AP, File)

FILE – German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius addresses the media during a press statement in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, March 3, 2024. The German government on Monday vehemently rejected allegations that Russia’s leak of a conversation by high-ranking German military officers was an indication that Germany was preparing a war against Russia, while at the same time it sought to contain the domestic fallout from the leak and promised a quick investigation into how it was possible that a conversation by top German military personnel could be intercepted and published. (Michael Kappeler/dpa via AP, File)

BERLIN (AP) — The German government on Monday vehemently rejected allegations that Russia’s leak of a conversation by high-ranking German military officers was an indication that Berlin was preparing for war against Russia.

At the same time, the government sought to contain the domestic fallout from the leak and promised a quick investigation into how a conversation by top German military personnel could be intercepted and published.

“It is absolutely clear that such claims that this conversation would prove, that Germany is preparing a war against Russia, that this is absurdly infamous Russian propaganda,” a spokesman for German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told reporters in Berlin.

Government spokesman Wolfgang Buechner said the leak was part of Russia’s “information war” against the West, and that the aim was to create discord within Germany.

The 38-minute recording features military officers discussing in German how Taurus long-range cruise missiles could be used by Kyiv against invading Russian forces.

While German authorities have not questioned the authenticity of the recording, Scholz said a week ago that delivering these weapons to Ukraine is not an option — and that he does not want Germany to be drawn into the war directly.

Russia’s foreign ministry, however, on Monday threatened Germany with “dire consequences” in connection with the leak. It did not elaborate.

“If nothing is done, and the German people do not stop this, then there will be dire consequences first and foremost for Germany itself,” foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said.

Relations between the two countries have continuously deteriorated since Russia invaded Ukraine two years ago.

The audio leak was posted by Margarita Simonyan, chief editor of Russian state-funded television channel RT, on social media on Friday, the same day that Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was laid to rest after his still-unexplained death two weeks ago in an Arctic penal colony. The recording also surfaced just weeks before Russia’s presidential election.

In the leaked audio, four officers, including the head of Germany’s air force, Ingo Gerhartz, can be heard discussing deployment scenarios for Taurus missiles in Ukraine before a meeting with Defense Minister Boris Pistorius, German news agency dpa reported.

The officers then state that early delivery and rapid deployment of Taurus missiles would only be possible with the participation of German soldiers. The officers said training Ukrainian soldiers to deploy the Taurus on their own would be possible, but it would take months.

The recording also shows the German government has not given its OK for the delivery of the cruise missiles sought by Ukraine, dpa reported.

There has been a debate in Germany about whether to supply the missiles to Ukraine as Kyiv faces battlefield setbacks. With military aid from the United States held up in Congress. Germany is now the second-biggest supplier of military aid to Ukraine after the U.S., and it is further stepping up its support this year.

Scholz’s insistence last week on not giving Taurus missiles to Ukraine came after Germany stalled for months on the country’s desire for the missiles, which have a range of up to 500 kilometers (310 miles) and could in theory be used against targets deep inside Russian territory.

On Monday, the chancellor reiterated his stance during a visit to a school in Sindelfingen in southwestern Germany.

“I’m the chancellor, and that’s why it’s valid,” he said regarding his “no” to the delivery of Taurus missiles, dpa reported.

Also on Monday, Germany’s ambassador visited Russia’s foreign ministry in Moscow. While Russia media reported that Ambassador Alexander Graf Lambsdorff had been summoned by the ministry, the German government said his visit was planned well before the audio was published.

Germany’s defense ministry tried to downplay the significance of the leaked conversation, saying it was merely an “exchange of ideas” before a meeting with the defense minister.

The ministry said it was investigating how a conversation by top German military personnel could be intercepted and leaked by the Russians. It promised to report its findings. Several German media have reported that the officers were in a WebEx meeting when they were taped.

Buechner, the spokesman for the chancellor, said the German government would also look into how it “can better counter targeted disinformation, especially from Russia.”

In the United States, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby declined to address any specifics of the leaked audio, but he called the release “a transparent attempt by Russians to sow discord.”

The Kremlin on Monday said it looked forward to the results of the German government’s investigation.

“Mr. Scholz said that a fast, complete and effective investigation would be carried out. We hope that that we will be able to find out the outcome of that investigation,” spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.

In London, a spokesman for U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak warned that the government must “treat anything coming out of the Kremlin with caution,” noting the Russian government’s record of spreading misinformation.

“It is in their interests to sow disunity amongst allies who are seeking to support the armed forces of Ukraine,” spokesman Dave Pares said. “We should not fall into that trap.”

___

Davies reported from Manchester, England. Associated Press writers Jill Lawless in London and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.

International Headlines

Copyright 2024 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed AP

Trending on NewsNation