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Scholz promises clarification of published air force recording

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has promised swift clarification following the Russian publication of a recording of consultations between German air force officers on the war in Ukraine. On the fringes of a visit to the Vatican on Saturday, the SPD politician spoke of a "very serious matter". In response to a question from the German Press Agency about possible foreign policy damage, he said: "That is why this is now being investigated very carefully, very intensively and very quickly. That is also necessary." The Greens and FDP are planning to raise the issue in parliamentary committees. There is great concern that further security-relevant communications were intercepted and that internal government communication channels are not sufficiently protected.

The head of the Russian state broadcaster RT, Margarita Simonjan, published an audio recording of a 30-minute conversation on Friday. In it, the head of the air force, Inspector Ingo Gerhartz, and other senior air force officers can be heard discussing the theoretical possibilities of a deployment of German Taurus cruise missiles through Ukraine. According to dpa information, the officers connected via the Webex platform.

Germany assumes wiretapping campaign

The German Ministry of Defense stated: "According to our assessment, a conversation in the air force area was intercepted. We are currently unable to say for certain whether changes were made to the recorded or transcribed version circulating on social media."

Konstantin von Notz, deputy leader of the Green parliamentary group, expects the German government to provide immediate and comprehensive clarification. To this end, corresponding reports will be requested from the relevant committees and other bodies for the coming week of the Bundestag session, which begins on March 11. Theoretically, the Interior Committee, the Defense Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Parliamentary Oversight Committee (PKGr) are all possible candidates. Von Notz himself is chairman of the PKGr, which is responsible for monitoring the federal intelligence services.

An isolated case or a general problem?

Von Notz continued: "It must be clarified as quickly as possible whether this wiretapping scandal is a one-off incident or a structural problem." It is clear that a "real turning point" is needed for all constitutional bodies and security authorities - also and especially with regard to the self-protection of all security-relevant communications. FDP parliamentary deputy Konstantin Kuhle told Handelsblatt: "If it turns out to be true that the Bundeswehr's internal communications have been compromised, a general overhaul of the entire internal communications infrastructure of security-relevant agencies in Germany is needed."

Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann (FDP), Chairwoman of the Bundestag Defense Committee, told Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND): "We urgently need to increase our security and counterespionage, because we are obviously vulnerable in this area. "Johann Wadephul, Deputy Chairman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, called on the German government to tighten up the regulations for the protection of communications. CDU defense expert Roderich Kiesewetter told ARD's main studio that the wiretapping incident "will certainly only be the tip of the iceberg".

Details on Taurus and explosive statement about allies

The conversation is said to have served as preparation for a briefing for Defense Minister Boris Pistorius (SPD). The exchange documented in the audio file deals, for example, with the question of whether Taurus cruise missiles would be technically capable of destroying the bridge built by Russia to the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, which was annexed in violation of international law. Another point is whether Ukraine could carry out the shelling without the involvement of the German armed forces. It is also about the quantity that the Bundeswehr could theoretically deliver to Ukraine and the duration of any preparations. However, it can also be heard in the recording that there is no green light at political level for the delivery of the cruise missiles demanded by Kiev.

It is also explosive that there is talk of the British having "a few people on the ground" in connection with the deployment of their Storm Shadow cruise missiles supplied to Ukraine. Only recently, there had been anger in the UK over a statement made by Scholz, which some interpreted as an indiscretion. "What the British and French are doing in terms of target management and support for target management cannot be done in Germany," said Scholz. He left open what exactly he meant by this. However, the sentence was taken by some as an indication that the French and British would support the control of the Storm Shadow and Scalp cruise missiles supplied to Ukraine with their own forces. A spokesman for British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak denied this: "The deployment of the Storm Shadow long-range missile system by Ukraine and the process of target selection are a matter for the Ukrainian armed forces."

Kiesewetter: Russia wants to prevent a Taurus delivery with a leak

CDU defense expert Kiesewetter told the news portal "ZDF heute" with regard to the publication: "One must assume that the conversation was deliberately leaked by Russia at this point in time with a specific intention. This can only be to prevent a Taurus delivery by Germany."

Strack-Zimmermann also believes that the reason for the publication is that Russia wants to deter Chancellor Scholz from giving the green light for the delivery of Taurus after all. She told RND that espionage is "part of Russia's toolbox of hybrid warfare". It was neither surprising nor surprising that conversations were intercepted. "It was only a matter of time before it became public."

Scholz has repeatedly emphasized that he is against the delivery of Taurus cruise missiles to Ukraine because he sees the danger that Germany could be drawn into the war of aggression started by Russia. After the wiretapping scandal came to light, he reiterated during a visit to Rome on Saturday: "We will not send any European soldiers to Ukraine. We don't want a war between Russia and Nato and we will do everything we can to prevent it." Within his own traffic light coalition, however, his no to a Taurus delivery is controversial.

©Keystone/SDA

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