German defence minister says Russian leak was a ‘hybrid attack’

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius has described the publication of an internal conversation between German air force officers by Russia as a “hybrid attack for disinformation,” after the scandal had one of Ukraine’s main backers scrambling to save face.

“It is part of an information war being waged by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” said Pistorius in Berlin on Sunday. “It’s about division. It’s about undermining our unity. And accordingly, we should react in a particularly level-headed manner, but no less resolutely.”

A recording of German air force officers discussing support for Ukraine was published on Friday by a Russian media outlet.

The senior officers can be heard discussing the theoretical possibilities of deploying German longer-range Taurus cruise missiles in Ukraine to destroy the bridge to the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, annexed by Moscow in violation of international law.

It was important “not to fall for Putin’s tricks,” Pistorius said, adding that the Russian president was attempting to drive a wedge in Germany’s domestic politics, which he hoped Putin would not succeed.

The minister stated that he currently has no information about further leaks or eavesdropping on other phone calls.

He expects the results of an internal investigation early in the week – including whether the correct platform was chosen for the content discussed in the published conversation.

Sources told dpa the officers had connected via the Webex platform, a US-made online conferencing platform.

Pistorius assured that appropriate consequences would be drawn promptly after the investigation.

German security officials have been demanding far-reaching consequences for the Russian wiretapping scandal engulfing the military.

German parliamentary defence commissioner Eva Högl on Sunday called for “all those responsible at all levels of the defence forces” to “immediately be trained in protected communications.”

“Secondly, it must be ensured that providing secure and secret information and communication can be done in a stable way,” Högl told the Funke Media Group.

The meeting was set up on the officers’ mobile phones via a Bundeswehr office landline, according to Bild am Sonntag newspaper, citing security sources.

Air Force inspector Ingo Gerhartz was among those present at the meeting, which is said to have been in preparation for a briefing to Defence Minister Pistorius.

The security level of the issues addressed is still being investigated.

The discussion topic is a sensitive one in Germany. In the leaked recording, it is made clear that Berlin is not willing to provide Kiev with cruise missiles.

According to the officers, a swift delivery and deployment of the Taurus missiles would only be possible under the involvement of German forces.

Deployment solely under Ukrainian command would be possible, but the necessary training for Ukrainian soldiers would likely take months.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has repeatedly ruled out the supply of Taurus missiles to Ukraine, despite repeated requests by Kiev, arguing that he fears Germany could be drawn more deeply into the war launched by the Kremlin in February 2022.

The clip also contains a diplomatically sensitive reference to the British having “a few people on the ground” in Ukraine, in connection with the deployment of their Storm Shadow cruise missiles to the country.

The reference follows anger in Britain over what London saw as a previous indiscretion on Scholz’s part.

Scholz had said, in the context of the Taurus debate, that “what the British and French are doing in terms of target control and accompanying target control cannot be done in Germany,” without elaborating further.

Some saw this as an indication that French and British forces were supporting the control of cruise missiles supplied to Ukraine. London immediately denied this was the case.

Meanwhile, German lawmakers fear that other sensitive discussions may also be intercepted.

On Saturday, Scholz promised swift clarification of the incident, calling it a “very serious matter.”

Pressed by a dpa correspondent about possible diplomatic fall-out from the intercepted Bundeswehr exchange, Scholz said: “That is why this is now being clarified very carefully, very intensively and very quickly. That is also necessary.”

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