Germany leak of UK military tactics in Ukraine is a security breach worrying on many levels, says MP

German defence minister says Putin’s Russia launched a ‘hybrid disinformation attack’ after military discussion leaked

Matt Mathers
Monday 04 March 2024 15:01 GMT
Related video: Putin threatens West with nuclear weapons

The leak of a conversation revealing Britain’s activities on the ground in Ukraine is a security breach that is “worrying on a number of levels,” a prominent Conservative MP has said.

British soldiers are “on the ground” in Ukraine helping Kyiv’s forces fire long-range Storm Shadow missiles, according to the leak in Russian media of a top-secret call involving German air force officers, authenticated by Berlin. During the conversation, Lt Gen Ingo Gerhartz, the head of the German air force, describes how the UK and Ukraine work to deploy Storm Shadow missiles against targets behind Russian lines.

“When it comes to mission planning,” the German commander says, “I know how the English do it, they do it completely in reachback. They also have a few people on the ground, they do that, the French don’t.”

Berlin has launched an investigation. Germany's defence minister Boris Pistorius has described the leak of the conversation as part of Russia's "information war" against the West, and said it is about "undermining our resolve". On Monday, the German government 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.

Several German media have reported that the officers were in a meeting on the WebEx platform when they were taped. A spokesman for the German defence ministry told Germany’s Bild newspaper: “There are indications that an insufficiently secure means of communication was used in view of the content that was obviously discussed. This is, among other things, the subject of further investigations.”

"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.

File photo: German defence minister Boris Pistorius (left) shakes hands with Kosovo opposite number (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The audio was posted to social media by Margarita Simonyan, the head of the Kremlin-controlled Russia Today channel, who claimed it was proof that Germany had been planning attacks on Crimea.

On the call, four officers can be heard discussing deployment scenarios for Taurus missiles in Ukraine ahead of a meeting with the country's Defense Minister Boris Pistorius, German news agency dpa reported. The officers then states that early delivery and rapid deployment of Taurus long-range cruise missiles would only be possible with the participation of German soldiers — and that training Ukrainian soldiers to deploy the Taurus on their own would be possible, but 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 on whether to supply the missiles to Ukraine as Kyiv faces battlefield setbacks, and while military aid from the United States is held up in Congress. Germany is now the second-biggest supplier of military aid to Ukraine after the US and is further stepping up its support this year.

Germany is now the second-biggest supplier of military aid to Ukraine after the United States and is further stepping up its support this year.

Olaf Scholz describes leak as ‘very serious matter’ (AP)

But Mr Scholz has stalled for months on Ukraine’s desire for Taurus missiles, which have a range of up to 500 kilometers (310 miles) and could in theory be used against targets far into Russian territory.

The chancellor has long emphasised his determination to help Ukraine without escalating the war and drawing Germany and NATO into it, and stressed that no German soldiers will go to Ukraine.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied accusations of spreading false or misleading information when faced with allegations from other countries. Russia's foreign ministry, threatened Germany with "dire consequences" in connection with the leak on Monday, though it did not elaborate.

Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood, former chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, described the leak as “worrying on a number of levels”.

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme what the most troubling aspect was, he said: “There’s many aspects of this; at the recent Munich Security Conference attended by the chancellor Olaf Scholz, and indeed President Zelensky who was begging for weapon systems, the very public frustration about Germany not matching Britain in sending long range air launch missiles was second only to the frustration in delays over the Americans not sending their 60 billion package of support that’s got caught up in Congress.

“So this interception and the leak of military planning discussion is worrying on a number of decibel levels.”

He added one aspect is “why wasn’t basic concept protocols followed” and another is “how this plays out in Germany”.

Downing Street said the leak was “a matter for Germany”. The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “That’s obviously a matter for Germany to investigate and you’ve got the Chancellor Scholz’s words on this. I think he said that it’s clearly a very serious matter and that’s why it’s now being investigated very carefully.

“On our part, the UK was the first country to provide long-range precision strike missiles to Ukraine and we would encourage our allies to do the same. We have been clear from the outset that the UK would provide Ukraine with the necessary aid, including lethal support to defend itself and reclaim its sovereign territory.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in