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Germany and Russia spar over a leaked audio on missiles for Ukraine. Berlin promises to investigate

BERLIN — The German government on Monday vehemently rejected allegations that Russia's leak of a conversation by high-ranking German military officers was an indication that Berlin was preparing for war against Russia.

At the same time, the government sought to contain the domestic fallout from the leak and promised a quick investigation into how it was possible that a conversation by top German military personnel could be intercepted and published.

“It is absolutely clear that such claims that this conversation would prove, that Germany is preparing a war against Russia, that this is absurdly infamous Russian propaganda,” a spokesman for German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told reporters in Berlin.

Government spokesman Wolfgang Buechner said the leak was part of Russia’s “information war” against the West, and that the aim was to create discord within Germany.

The 38-minute recording features military officers discussing in German how Taurus long-range cruise missiles could be used by Kyiv against invading Russian forces. While German authorities haven't questioned the authenticity of the recording, Scholz said a week ago that delivering these weapons to Ukraine isn't an option — and that he doesn't want Germany to be drawn into the war directly.

Russia’s foreign ministry, however, on Monday threatened Germany with “dire consequences” in connection with the leak, though it didn't elaborate.

“If nothing is done, and the German people do not stop this, then there will be dire consequences first and foremost for Germany itself,” foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said.

Relations between the two countries have continuously deteriorated since Russia invaded Ukraine two years ago.

The audio leak was posted Friday by Margarita Simonyan, chief editor of Russian state-funded television channel RT, on social media on Friday, the same day that late opposition politician Alexei Navalny was laid to rest after his still-unexplained death two weeks ago in an Arctic penal colony. It also surfaced just weeks before Russia's presidential election.

In the leaked audio, four officers, including the head of Germany’s Air Force, Ingo Gerhartz, can be heard discussing deployment scenarios for Taurus missiles in Ukraine before a meeting with Defense Minister Boris Pistorius, German news agency dpa reported.

The officers then states that early delivery and rapid deployment of Taurus long-range cruise missiles would only be possible with the participation of German soldiers — and that training Ukrainian soldiers to deploy the Taurus on their own would be possible, but would take months.

The recording also shows the German government hasn't given its OK for the delivery of the cruise missiles sought by Ukraine, dpa reported.

There has been a debate in Germany on whether to supply the missiles to Ukraine as Kyiv faces battlefield setbacks, and while military aid from the United States is held up in Congress. Germany is now the second-biggest supplier of military aid to Ukraine after the U.S., and is further stepping up its support this year.

Scholz’s insistence last week on not giving Taurus missiles to Ukraine came after Germany stalled for months on the country's desire for Taurus missiles, which have a range of up to 310 miles and could in theory be used against targets far inside Russian territory.

On Monday, the chancellor reiterated his stance during a visit at a school in Sindelfingen in southwestern Germany.

“I'm the chancellor and that's why it's valid,” he said regarding his “no” to the delivery of Taurus missiles, dpa reported.

Also on Monday, Germany's ambassador visited Russia's foreign ministry in Moscow. While Russia media reported that Ambassador Alexander Graf Lambsdorff had been summoned by the foreign ministry, the German government said his visit had been planned well before the audio was published.

Germany's defense ministry tried to downplay the significance of the officers' conversation in the leak — saying it was merely an “exchange of ideas” before a meeting with the defense minister.

The ministry said it was investigating how it was possible that a conversation by top German military personnel could be intercepted and leaked by the Russians. It promised to report of its findings. Several German media have reported that the officers were in a WebEx meeting when they were taped.

Buechner, the spokesman of the chancellor, said that the German government would also look into how “we can better counter targeted disinformation, especially from Russia.”

The Kremlin on Monday said that it looked forward to the results of the German government’s investigation.

“Mr. Scholz said that a fast, complete and effective investigation would be carried out. We hope that we will be able to find out the outcome of that investigation,” spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.

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