Germany’s Scholz faces fallout over embarrassing Ukraine leak

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz gave an angry rebuff to the idea of sending long-range Taurus missiles to Ukraine amid the fallout of a Russian-orchestrated leak of internal German debates that exposed sensitive information about the United Kingdom’s involvement in the war in Ukraine.

“It is unacceptable to supply a weapon system capable of reaching great distances without considering how to control it,” Scholz said Monday, according to media translations. “If you want control, it only works with the participation of German soldiers, so for me, this is out of the question.”

That explanation represented the latest installment of Scholz’s stonewalling of long-range missile deliveries to Ukraine. Yet German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock declared that Berlin needs to “intensively consider” the weapons transfer, which has been encouraged by British officials — who themselves are fuming that Russia was able to intercept a conversation in which German military officials discussed the role of British forces tasked with overseeing Ukraine’s use of long-range missiles provided by London.

“We know Germany is pretty penetrated by Russian intelligence, so it just demonstrates they are neither secure nor reliable,” senior British lawmaker Ben Wallace, who stepped down recently as defense secretary in anticipation of his impending retirement, told the Times.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz delivers his speech at the PES congress after main candidate to the next European elections Nicolas Schmit has been elected, in Rome, Saturday, March 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Wallace, the top British defense official from 2019 until last August, has fumed at Scholz over the last week as the German leader raised the curtain on British and French operations in an apparent effort to deflect calls for Berlin to send its long-sought missiles. 

“What is being done in the way of target control and accompanying target control on the part of the British and the French can’t be done in Germany,” Scholz said Monday. “German soldiers must at no point and in no place be linked to targets this [Taurus] system reaches.”

That statement was interpreted as a confirmation that British forces are present in Ukraine to assist with the use of the U.K.’s Storm Shadows and the French-owned SCALP missiles, which Ukrainian forces have deployed to lethal effect against Russian warships in Crimea. It is widely understood in Kyiv and across NATO that British officials have given Ukraine a “decision advantage” when attempting to target Russian forces with the advanced weapons, but the allies generally take care not to put a spotlight on sensitive activities of other members of the alliance.

“It was an inappropriate comment, to talk in that manner,” a Western military official said of Scholz’s remarks.

The faux pas worsened on Friday when a Russian state media broadcaster published a lengthy conversation between German military officials who had a conversation about long-range missile transfers to Ukraine. One military leader, identified in the press as Lt. Gen. Ingo Gerhartz, the German air force chief, explained to colleagues “how the English do it” and proceeded to outline their role. 

“They have a few people on the ground; [but] they, the French, don’t do that,” Gerhartz was quoted as saying. “So, they QC [quality control] the Ukrainians while they’re loading the SCALP, because Storm Shadow and SCALP are in a purely technical sense quite similar. And they told me, yes, dear lord, they’d be looking over the Ukrainians’ shoulders while they load the Taurus.”

Russian officials have used the publication of that conversation as an opportunity to direct new threats against Germany.

“As we now understand, they have not been fully denazified,” Russian Foreign Minister Maria Zakharova said Monday, according to an RT state media translation, in a loaded reference that evokes Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim that “denazification” of Ukraine is one of the goals of the Russian invasion. “If nothing is done, if this process is not stopped by the German people themselves, this will lead first of all to dire consequences for Germany itself.”

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius surmised that Russia leaked the conversation as “a hybrid disinformation attack” on Germany’s relationship with its allies. And Baerbock, the foreign minister, implied that Scholz is wrong to block the missile transfers. 

“The facts are very, very clear,” she said, according to Politico’s European affiliate.

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Scholz pulled rank. “I am the chancellor and that is why it is like this,” he said. TASS, a state-run Russian media outlet, noted the remark in a report emphasizing that “Scholz stands firm on his refusal” to provide the missiles.

“They have understood — I mean, the Russians — the [Chancellor] Scholz is fragile,” a senior European official said. “Scholz doesn’t want to be pushed. And [so] there will be an immediate nein … Scholz doesn’t like it. Russians are masters in psychology, as well.”

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