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Russian propaganda makes the most of German army call leak

Sergey Satanovskiy in Riga
March 6, 2024

Russia is playing the victim card after a conversation between German officers was leaked. Officials and experts warn about the risk of war between NATO and Russia.

A Bundeswehr patch and a patch of the Russian flag, overlayed with a set of earpieces
The recent wiretapping scandal has further exacerbated Germany's relations with RussiaImage: Christian Ohde/CHROMORANGE/picture alliance

Several days after the leak of a recording of a discussion between high-ranking German officers regarding the war in Ukraine, this topic remains on the front pages of the Russian media. An uninformed viewer of local TV might even think it is Russia that has been attacked by Ukraine, and not vice versa.

The leak coverage mostly reflects the traditional Russian state media narrative about the country fighting the entire western world in Ukraine, which aims to explain why the attempts to capture the Ukrainian capital Kyiv in three days failed two years ago.

German Defense Minister warns it's all 'Putin's game' referring leaked military conversations

'Germany  preparing for war with Russia'

The harshest reaction to the leaked call came from Russia's former president, Dmitry Medvedev, who is now the deputy chairman of the Security Council. After the full-scale war against Ukraine started two years ago, his rhetoric changed from what some might call liberal to the complete opposite.

Commenting on the leak, Medvedev called Germany Russia's eternal adversary and said that it had once again turned into a sworn enemy. From his point of view, the eavesdropped conversation, which included references to the German-made Taurus cruise missile, demonstrates that Germany is preparing for war with Russia.

"Attempts to portray the conversation among Bundeswehr officers as rocket and tank games are malicious lies," reads his post on the Telegram messenger service.

Attacks on Crimea seen as attacks on Russia

Though Russian President Vladimir Putin has been in the spotlight these days because of his State of the Union address, he hasn't said a word about the leak. His spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the Ukrainian peninsula Crimea, mentioned in the German officers' talk and annexed by Russia 10 years ago, a Russian territory.

"The recording itself suggests that within the Bundeswehr, there are substantive and specific discussions about plans to strike Russian territory," Peskov said.

Unlike Medvedev, Peskov expressed uncertainty about whether these perceived intentions represent Berlin's official policy course or if it's just "an initiative of the Bundeswehr."

Russia disappointed by Germany's reaction

There are few details about why the German ambassador to Russia was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Moscow on Monday and what was discussed behind closed doors. The state news agency TASS reported that he was called in connection with the disclosed recording. The ambassador himself denied these allegations saying the meeting had been planned before the leak was published.

While there have been no immediate diplomatic repercussions, Russian authorities appear to be using the incident to further crack down on NGOs.

A Taurus cruise missile on the transport rack
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is under increasing pressure for his reluctance to provide Taurus cruise missiles to UkraineImage: Sven Eckelkamp/IMAGO

The same day the German ambassador was summoned to the foreign ministry, three German NGOs appeared on the list of undesirable organizations overseen by the Justice Ministry. As a result, anyone working or collaborating with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, a foundation associated with Germany's Social Democratic Party; the German Association for Society for East European Studies, and the Mobile Academy for the Support of Gender Democracy and Peacebuilding, a Berlin-based organization, can be legally prosecuted in Russia.

Shortly before that meeting, Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, expressed disappointment in Germany's reaction to the leak.

"So, the fact itself that German weaponry is being prepared, German specialists are maintaining these weapons, and there are discussions about attacking the Russian Federation, including the Crimean Bridge and ammunition depots. It's not surprising. It speaks volumes," Lavrov said.

Military response to Taurus supplies

Military experts and political analysts, cited by state agencies, are discussing the effectiveness of the Taurus missiles and potential retaliatory measures by Russia in case of their delivery.

RIA Novosti quotes military analyst Igor Korotchenko, who mentioned the possibility of striking the factory producing these missiles in Germany. The deputy head of the ruling party "United Russia," Andrey Isaev, made similar inciting comments on state television.

"The deployment of troops and missiles involving German officers will mean Germany's official legal entry into the war," Isaev said in the talk show 60 Seconds. "From this moment on, we will have the right to strike the territory of the country that is effectively at war with us."

Isaev, just like another TV propagandist, Vladimir Solovyov, went on air trying to blackmail Germany using the "Two-Plus-Four-Treaty" about German reunification as an example. Isaev said on TV that, based on this deal, Germany promised to keep the peace and shipping Taurus missiles would violate that agreement.

Dangerous times ahead

The wiretapping scandal and the ensuing fallout demonstrate a bleak turn that the world is facing, according to Fyodor Lukyanov, the director of research at the Valdai Discussion Club, a Moscow-based think tank. Putin regularly participates in meetings of this club.

Lukyanov believes that the leaked conversation indicates Germany's readiness for escalation. Considering Russia's frequent use of nuclear blackmail, the unwillingness of both sides to make concessions signals an "entry into dangerous times," Lukyanov concluded.

Edited by: Rob Mudge

Germany probes Russian tapping of Ukraine talks