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German army captain admits spying for Russia

Published April 29, 2024last updated April 29, 2024

The officer, with ties to the far-right AfD party, said he provided information to a Russian intelligence service out of fear of a nuclear escalation in Moscow's war in Ukraine.

The defendant and his lawyer, pictured from behind, stand and look towards the judges' bench at the trial at the Oberlandsgericht court in Düsseldorf. April 29, 2024.
The trial is taking place in the high-security facility of the upper regional court (Oberlandsgericht) for the state of North Rhine-WestphaliaImage: Oliver Berg/dpa/picture alliance

A member of Germany's Bundeswehr went on trial in the western city of Düsseldorf on Monday, charged with espionage activities on behalf of Russia and leaking state secrets. 

At the start of the trial, the defendant admitted that he had spied for Russia. He said his actions were driven by a fear of a nuclear escalation amid Russia's war in Ukraine.

The officer was arrested on August 9 last year and the charges against him were made public on March 19

The defendant (obscured from the photo by a piece of paper near the camera lens) speaks with his lawyer in the courtroom. Düsseldorf, April 29, 2024.
The defendant is alleged to have operated voluntarily and without paymentImage: Oliver Berg/dpa/picture alliance

What are the accusations against him?

The defendant is accused of making repeated and unsolicited offers to cooperate, starting in May 2023, at both Russia's consulate in Bonn and its embassy in Berlin

He allegedly already provided some sensitive information during these meetings. 

According to prosecutors, he also photographed old training documents related to munitions systems and aircraft technology and dropped the material into the letterbox of the Russian consulate in Bonn.

Prosecutors say there's no evidence of him receiving payment. 

Germany arrests alleged spy working for Russia

What did he tell the court?

The 54-year-old man said that the accusations against him were "broadly" accurate.

Content he saw "presumably on TikTok" had prompted him to contact the Russian consulate. He said he had followed on TikTok a pro-Russian influencer affiliated with the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD), although he wasn't sure which content it was. 

According to his account, he was concerned about his family's safety in the event of a nuclear attack. The officer said he therefore sought contact with Russian authorities to get a heads up on "when it was going to go off."

"I only saw this way," he told the court. 

The officer added that he regretted his actions and that he was in a bad mental state at the time. 

The man, with a rank of captain, had worked at the Bundeswehr's equipment, technology and in-service support facility in Koblenz.

The facility is responsible for equipping Germany's armed forces, as well as for developing, testing and procuring new equipment and technology. 

Around the same time as his cooperation with Russian authorities, he had also applied for membership with the AfD. The court said his application was authorized in July 2023. 

Bundeswehr and military tech in sharp focus since invasion of Ukraine

Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 had major and mixed impacts on Germany and its armed forces. 

It prompted probably the most serious attempt in years to boost defense spending and military readiness, after similar plans from previous governments yielded few results.

But it also threw a fresh spotlight on the army's problems with recruitment, procurement and readiness

And rapidly the question of which weaponry Germany might send to support Ukraine began to dominate headlines at home, and sometimes abroad.

Germany revamps military to boost defense readiness

It's not the only case of alleged espionage on behalf of Russia to come to light since the war broke out, with a former intelligence agency employee facing similar charges in Berlin. 

Earlier this year, Russia also released audio excerpts from an online video conference call between senior German military officers discussing the war in Ukraine and what impact new weapons deliveries might have. 

fb, msh/wd (AFP, dpa)

*Editor's note: DW follows the German press code, which stresses the importance of protecting the privacy of suspected criminals or victims and urges us to refrain from revealing full names in such cases.

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