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Russia summons German diplomat over leaked tape

By REN QI in Moscow | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-03-05 09:29
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The Russian flag flies on the dome of the Kremlin Senate building behind Spasskaya Tower, in central Moscow, Russia, May 4, 2023. [Photo/Agencies]

The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned the German ambassador on Monday, TASS news agency reported, after Russian media published an audio recording of Berlin's potential involvement in the conflict in Ukraine.

In the purported call released by Russia's RT broadcaster, German military officers were heard discussing weapons for Ukraine and a potential strike by Kyiv on a bridge in Crimea, prompting Russian officials to demand an explanation.

The Kremlin said on Monday that the content of a leaked conversation between German officials about potential strikes on Crimea proved Western countries were participating in the conflict in Ukraine.

"The recording itself suggests that the Bundeswehr is discussing substantively and specifically plans to strike Russian territory," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Peskov was speaking as the German ambassador to Russia was summoned to the foreign ministry in Moscow.

Ambassador Alexander Graf Lambsdorff left the ministry building without giving any comment, Russian news agencies reported.

Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia's Security Council also said on Monday that Moscow would show restraint in response to the purported intercept of the German military discussing a strike on Russia, but would not forget about it.

He made the comments at a youth forum in southern Russia, the RIA news agency reported.

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius earlier responded to the leak, describing it as part of Russia's "information war" against the West, and that it was aimed to create discord within Germany.

In the 38-minute recording, German military officers also discussed how the Taurus long-range cruise missiles could be used by Ukraine. It was said the audio was leaked as a debate had been taking place in Germany over whether to supply the missiles.

Pistorius told reporters on Sunday that the Bundeswehr officers did not discuss specific plans, but talked about hypothetical options, keeping in mind that Germany should not become part of the conflict in Ukraine.

He said the timing was not a coincidence.

"It is part of an information war …There is absolutely no doubt about that," he said. "It is a hybrid attack aimed at disinformation. It is about division. It is about undermining our resolve."

He also said it does not mean it is a green light to supply the weapons to Ukraine.

On Saturday, the German Defense Ministry confirmed the call had been wiretapped. Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged a prompt investigation into the situation.

Earlier last week, Scholz said he remains reluctant to send the Taurus missiles to Ukraine, pointing to a risk of Germany becoming directly involved in the conflict. His hesitancy is a source of friction in his three-party coalition and also annoyed Germany's conservative opposition.

NATO member Turkiye hopes talks for a cease-fire in Ukraine will start soon, Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said on Sunday after meeting his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of the Antalya Diplomacy Forum.

Rail network targeted

But a truce seemed to be far away from happening as Ukraine said it blew up a railway bridge in Russia's southwestern Samara region on Monday because it was being used to transport "military cargo". It was the latest in a string of explosions targeting Russia's rail network.

Meanwhile, NATO was scheduled to kick off an exercise on Monday to defend its newly expanded Nordic territory, with more than 20,000 soldiers from 13 nations expected to take part in drills lasting nearly two weeks in the northern regions of Finland, Norway and Sweden.

With over 4,000 Finnish soldiers taking part, the Norway-led Nordic Response 2024 represents the NATO newcomer's largest-ever participation in a foreign exercise, Finland's military said.

Finland, which shares a 1,340-kilometer border with Russia, joined NATO in April in a historic move following decades of military nonalignment. With its bid now ratified by all NATO members, neighboring Sweden is currently finalizing formalities to enter the military alliance as its 32nd member — most likely in March.

Agencies contributed to this story.

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