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Intercepted top-secret German meeting gives NATO another headache it could do without

The photo shows NATO leaders at the 70th anniversary meeting of the alliance

The German ambassador to Moscow has been summoned to the Kremlin after an audio recording of senior military figures was intercepted by Russian intelligence sources.


The recording, obtained after Luftwaffe Lieutenant General Ingo Gerhartz discussed top-secret plans with senior officers on an unsecure network, has caused major embarrassment to one of NATO’s leading nations.


Chancellor Olaf Scholz has described the security breach as “very serious”, after plans for providing Ukraine with Taurus missiles were discussed, something the German leader has repeatedly ruled out.


Mr Scholz has previously expressed concern that the missiles, which have a range of 300 miles, could be used to strike Russian territory.


The German officers also discussed the deployment of British troops on the ground in Ukraine, something not officially confirmed by the MOD.


Whilst the MOD are yet to comment officially, Tobias Ellwood MP, former Chairman of the Commons Defence Committee has called the breach “worrying on a number of levels”.


The audio is likely to further strain relations between Berlin and London, with British officials said to be annoyed by comments made last week by the German Chancellor that referenced the UK deployment of Storm Shadow missiles to Ukraine.


The blunder is the latest mishap to afflict NATO members in recent weeks, as the alliance faces its biggest threat since the end of the Cold War.



 


As Russia mobilises its economy onto a war-footing, with 33% of its GDP being spent on defence, the latest mishap demonstrates the lack of cohesion and unity that threatens to weaken the alliance's response, with contradictions in strategy between German political and military leaders imitating that on display across NATO.


Last week, French President Emmanual Macron caused dismay amongst western leaders after commenting that the discussions on the deployment of western troops to fight Russia directly had been discussed.


The President, who famously met with Putin prior to his invasion before issuing a Chamberlain-like proclamation that war would be averted, insisted that nothing was off the table in the fight against Russia.


This was quickly and equivocally rebuffed by the US, Germany, UK and Poland who vehemently asserted that the deployment of troops onto the frontline was out of the question, as Vladimir Putin responded with threats of nuclear annihilation.


Last month, the uncertainty of the alliance’s ability to operate in the wake of a Donald Trump Presidency was displayed as the Republican nominee in waiting insisted that he would not only tolerate attacks on member states who have failed to meet the minimum spending quota, but he would instead encourage them.


Across the Atlantic, the UK was left embarrassed as “an anomaly” occurred whilst it tested one of its four nuclear submarines, leading to the missile crashing into the sea, Defence Secretary Grant Shapps told the Commons.


Great Britain, as one of the few nuclear armed members of NATO, is fundamental in the alliances ability to defend against and deter nuclear armed adversaries and the recent failure, the second in succession, renders Britain's nuclear defence a laughing stock amongst friend and foe alike.


In October last year, Russia conducted a large scale exercise that simulated the firing of nuclear missiles during a peer on peer conflict, replicating a scenario it could face in a war with NATO.


The exercise, which saw a Yars intercontinental missile fired from land and a missile fired from a nuclear submarine was said to have been successful and showed its ability to respond to a nuclear attack the Kremlin said.


Russia also moved a batch of nuclear missiles to neighbouring Belarus, to be used in the event of a nuclear attack on its territory.


Whilst the leak by senior German officers is serious and will lead to internal recriminations, the bigger damage is that done to NATO’s reputation as it continues to stare down the Russian bear threatening it on its eastern border.


As the threat of escalation and misstep becomes ever more stark, and increasingly consequential, the series of blunders and mishaps come at precisely the wrong time, in a moment where the alliance must outwardly display unity, coherence and solidarity to face down its aggressors.


These are blunders that NATO can ill afford to keep making.


The inability of the US to approve funding for Ukraine, the UK government waiting on death row, unable to plan beyond the end of the week and French spending being dwarfed by similar sized countries, makes the political climate in which NATO responds to Putin tough enough.


With its weekly self-inflicted shot in the foot, NATO voluntarily affords Putin the cover to operate with freedom of manoeuvre, allowing him to push further than he otherwise would dare and giving him hope that infighting within NATO offers him a path to victory.


So, whilst Luftwaffe Lieutenant General Gerhartz’s ill-judged decision to hold a top-secret meeting via Webex might lead to him being placed on the bureaucratic naughty step, the ramifications of this and other blunders combined serves as the shot in the arm that Putin and his thugs so desperately require.




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