Germany must not dance to Russian intelligence’s Taurus waltz

Embarrassing Germany, Russia’s RT state media outlet has aired a leaked audio recording of German air force officers discussing the possible provision of Taurus cruise missiles to Ukraine. The recording, collected by the Russian intelligence services, involves discussions over the practicality of Ukraine using Taurus in strikes against Russia’s Kerch Bridge. That bridge connects Russian-occupied Crimea with the Russian mainland and is a particularly sensitive concern for Vladimir Putin’s government.

The Kremlin is taking full advantage of its intelligence services’ success. It says that the leak “suggests that within the bowels of the [German military], plans to launch strikes on the territory of the Russian Federation are being substantively and specifically discussed.” Former Russian president turned social media troll Dmitry Medvedev says the German military wants to start a war with Russia even if Chancellor Olaf Scholz, whom he described as a Nazi “Sausage,” opposes that outcome.

It’s understandable why Moscow fears Taurus.

While the United Kingdom and France have already provided Ukraine with a similar cruise missile, Storm Shadow/SCALP, the Taurus would provide additive benefits to Ukraine. Taurus has a greater range than its U.K.-French competitor missile and is better suited for strikes against bridges. Indeed, the German air force has openly admitted that the missile is designed to destroy defended bridges.

Nevertheless, this leak is a textbook example of Russian intelligence activity. Exploiting the German air force’s idiotic use of Webex to discuss highly classified information, the Russians have embarrassed Berlin. Their primary intent is to worsen German fears over a possible escalation with Russia. Moscow hopes that by continuing to refuse to provide Ukraine with Taurus, Scholz will further frustrate allies who fear he is too timid. In that regard, it is notable that this leak comes on the heels of French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent call for increased military support for Ukraine.

Russia’s gall is also telling.

Moscow has always viewed Germany as the most heavyweight NATO actor most vulnerable to its intimidation. This is best underlined by Russia’s efforts to undermine NATO nuclear deterrence strategy. And Russia clearly believes this leak and its associated hyperbole will help it shut down the Taurus-to-Ukraine question once and for all. Evincing as much, the Russians are even using this incident to push for other concessions from Berlin. The Russian foreign ministry summoned the German ambassador on Monday to demand that his government provide greater freedom to Russian journalists in Germany. Of course, it failed to note that many of these journalists are actually Russian intelligence officers.

What happens next?

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Well, in another pitch-perfect play to Russian intelligence tradecraft, RT chief Margarita Simonyan is hinting that other audio messages will be released at some undetermined point. This dangled threat is designed to keep Germany and the West further off-balance. It is also designed to intimidate other German officials who may have had other conversations/activities of a personal/professional sensitive nature that they will now fear were also intercepted. The blackmail-laden intent is to encourage these fearing officials to adopt a more sympathetic line toward Russia in the hope that doing so will earn Moscow’s decision not to release their own recordings. It’s KGB 101.

That said, the logical German response to these threats is to reject them outright. Russia is waging a war of choice on European continental peace and the central premise of the European political project: European democratic sovereignty. Scholz likes to exaggerate his support for Ukraine. He should now do what he should have done a long time ago: Give Ukraine a large number of Taurus missiles. And he should tell the Ukrainians to hit whatever targets on their territory, including bridges, that they desire to hit.

Russia will not declare war on NATO for the same reason it did not declare war on NATO following the U.K.-French missile provision — namely, that NATO would dominate Russian forces across the full spectrum of warfare.

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