Spilnota Detector Media

Oleksii Pivtorak

Detector Media analyst

Kostiantyn Zadyraka

Detector Media analyst

Українською читайте тут.

Detector Media analyzed 629 publications from propagandist Telegram channels with manipulations on the topic of providing Ukraine with Taurus missiles five days before and five days after March 1, 2024. On March 1, Russian propagandists published a recording of a conversation between the German military, which was called a "discussion of the Taurus missile attack on the Crimean bridge." DM discusses further how the Russians manipulated this conversation and the topic of providing Ukraine with Taurus missiles.

On March 1, a recording (and later a transcript) of a conversation appeared in Margarita Simonyan's Telegram channel, in which German officers allegedly discussed the possibility of attacking the Crimean bridge with Taurus missiles. One of the voices on the audio said that the missiles would be ready for use in 8 months. Another [officer] doubted the attack's success and suggested that it would require more than ten or even twenty missiles. According to the weapons developer MBDA, the flight range of Taurus missiles is about 500 kilometers. This allows Ukraine to hit any targets on the occupied territories of Ukraine.

The German Ministry of Defense has confirmed that the Russians wiretapped officers of the German Air Force. However, it suggested propagandists may have altered the audio before its distribution. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that military wiretapping is a "very serious matter" and that an investigation should be carried out as soon as possible to avoid damaging German foreign policy.

Wall Street Journal sources said the call, the recording of which was posted by the propagandists, took place on the unencrypted online conferencing platform WebEx. One of the officers joined the conversation using a mobile phone from a hotel in Singapore. According to the American publication’s sources, who are familiar with the course of this leak’s investigation by German law enforcement officers, WebEx is also used by other departments of the German government.

The attitude towards providing Taurus missiles to Ukraine in German society is fluctuating. According to an ARD-DeutschlandTrend survey published in August 2023, 52% of polled German citizens with the right to vote in elections said Germany should not supply Ukraine with long-range cruise missiles, while 36% voted "for". In February 2024, the share of those who were against the provision of Taurus to Ukraine decreased. At the end of February 2024, 49% of respondents, according to the INSA study commissioned by the Sunday supplement of the newspaper Bild, were against providing Ukraine with Taurus, and 35% were in favor.

Aid to Ukraine from January 24 to February 15, 2024, from the EU and its countries, according to the Kiel Institute

Germany is the second country in terms of the volume of aid to Ukraine. According to the Kiel Institute, from January 24, 2022, to February 15, 2024, Germany provided Ukraine with about 22 billion dollars in military, humanitarian, and financial aid. According to Kiel Institute estimates, France, whose assistance to Ukraine was discussed in the Kremlingram last week, provided Ukraine with about 1.8 billion dollars during this period. According to the French Ministry of Armed Forces, as of January 31, 2023, aid to Ukraine amounted to 2.6 billion euros. France and Germany are among the top ten countries with the largest GDP. According to Worldometer, Germany had the third largest GDP in the world in 2022, and France had the fourth. However, one should not forget that these countries are members of the EU. Among the contributions to aid Ukraine from the institutions of the European Union, there are also contributions from Germany, France, and other EU member states.

Taurus discussions on the eve of the German military conversation reveal

From February 25 to March 1, 2024, in a sample of 629 posts about Taurus, long-range missiles were mentioned in 157 posts in 144 propaganda Telegram channels. Data about these posts was provided by the LetsData company. They allow us to claim that even before the audio recording of the German officers' call was made public, the topic of providing Ukraine with the Taurus was prominent in the pro-Russian media. Google Trends also confirms this. According to them, in late February and early March, web searches for Taurus missiles peaked between February 24, 2022, and March 6, 2024.

Dynamics of web searches on the topic "Taurus KEPD 350" in Google Trends from February 24, 2022 to March 6, 2024

On February 25, 2024, pro-Russian Telegram channels discussed the Bild survey. For supporters of Russia, a simple transfer of poll numbers was enough to give the impression that the Germans are against Ukraine. Here is an example of a message from the Russian-language propaganda publication RT, which has 862,000 subscribers on Telegram:

"According to a survey by the sociological institute INSA for Bild, the majority of Germans (51%) consider the integration of Ukrainian refugees into Germany unsuccessful. Even more respondents (61%) fear that the conflict in Ukraine will spread to NATO countries. 49% spoke against the supply of Taurus missiles to Ukraine, while only 35% supported it."

The next day, propagandist Telegram channels discussed German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's comment, in which he said about Taurus: "We should in no way be associated with the goals that this particular [military] system achieves."

In pro-Russian Telegram channels, Scholz's position was spread verbatim or alongside earlier quotes from German politicians to reinforce the impression of their indecision in supporting Ukraine. Often, Scholz's quote was accompanied by phrases like: "Khokhly [derigatory naming of Ukrainians] will now add Scholz to the "peacemakers" section. The "peacemaker" info base is one of the lists of pro-Russian politicians, collaborators, and propagandists, created in Ukraine in 2014. Entry into this database does not mean criminal prosecution of its participants. Grounds for restricting rights are, for example, the list of persons who threaten national security from the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine or the imposition of sanctions by Ukraine or other states.

On February 27, another quote by Olaf Scholz was circulated with claims that "there will be no ground troops of NATO countries in Ukraine." He said it as a reaction to the words of French President Emmanuel Macron about the possibility of sending troops from NATO countries to Ukraine. Russian Telegram channel, with 124,000 subscribers, discussed it: "Macron and Scholz are playing good and bad policemen to convince Russia to split Europe... When European [military] units will appear in Ukraine and Taurus missiles will shoot, you will have to remember my versions [of events]".

Some Telegram channels, such as one with 157,000 subscribers, noted that Germany, although it does not transfer Taurus missiles to Ukraine, still supports Ukraine, in particular, by "buying ammunition for Ukraine in India."

On February 28, Russian ambassador to Germany Sergey Nechayev was quoted in pro-Russian Telegram channels commenting on the resolution of the German Bundestag calling for the provision of long-range weapons to Ukraine. He accused Germany of "militaristic rhetoric" and "crossing its red lines" and tried to play on the split in German society regarding the transfer of long-range weapons to Ukraine, pitting "the people" against "politicians".

"It is only reassuring that not everyone in Germany shares this approach, understanding what the local "hawks" are dragging the German people into," Nechayev was quoted in one of the Telegram channels.

On February 29, pro-Russian Telegram channels discussed the words of Olaf Scholz [with mentions of Taurus] that the British military in Ukraine is helping to guide Storm Shadow missiles. The spokesman of the Ministry of Defense of Great Britain objected to this:

"Ukraine's use of Storm Shadow and their guidance processes are the responsibility of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The United Kingdom, together with other allies, is providing Ukraine with a range of equipment to help it counter Russia's illegal and unprovoked aggression," said the spokesperson for the British Ministry of Defense in a statement to AFP.

Discussions of Taurus after the publication of the German officers’ conversation reveal

After the publication of the leak, the Russian agitational propaganda focused on promoting several theses that were important to them. The first thesis, voiced by official representatives of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and promoted by propaganda Telegram channels, is the alleged existence of direct involvement of NATO countries and Germany, in particular, in the war. The statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry says that the published conversations "clearly testify to the involvement of the "collective West", including Berlin, in the conflict around Ukraine." The former president of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, wrote that "Germany is preparing for war with Russia." Advancing the thesis that Russia is allegedly already at war with the entire "collective West" serves the usual goal of Russian agitational propaganda to depict Ukraine as a weak country with no legal subjectivity and explain why the "second army of the world" still cannot finish its "three-day special military operation". Russian propaganda has depicted Ukrainians as stupid, ignorant, and incompetent for years, so in its imagination, rockets and all other Western weapons must be operated by "Western mercenaries". According to them, it is not the "pot-headed Ukrainians" who carry out attacks on the Russian army, its ships, and military infrastructure.

Along with accusing Germany of involvement in the war, Russian propaganda also spread threats against Berlin. Here, the propagandists make references to the Second World War and call to "remind the Germans about 1945". "If you would like to fight with Russia (and the active plans of the Bundeswehr command for Taurus seem to hint at it) you also need to like to deal with the consequences," writes one of the propaganda Telegram channels (74,000 subscribers). Russian propaganda habitually exploits history and tries to play on the German historical memory. The representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, said that "denazification in Germany is not complete. If the Germans do not change the situation, the consequences for Germany will be terrible." As in the case of Ukraine, Russians use Nazism and "denazification" to give weight and emotion to their threats and demands, which are reduced to statements with the following message: "Give us what we want. Do not help those whom we attacked."

Another thesis advanced by Russian propagandists in connection with the leak is the insignificance of the very fact of the possible transfer of Taurus missiles to Ukraine. As with previous military equipment, agitational propaganda emphasizes that this military tech cannot change the situation. By repeating the statement that Taurus missiles, like any other weapon, are not capable of turning the tide of the war, the propagandists emphasize that Russia will allegedly inevitably win the war, and new weapons are supplied exclusively for the sake of the "media image". Some propagandists disparage Western technology in every possible way, claiming that the Russian anti-aircraft defense system allegedly copes with previous types of missiles sent to Ukraine. Others admit that the Taurus, like the Storm Shadow, can deliver "unpleasant strikes" against Russian forces. Still, instead, Russian propagandists try to devalue Ukraine's acquisition of missiles and future strikes, using them as rare occurrences that will not change the situation in general.

Moreover, Russian agitational propaganda used the published conversation to portray disputes among Ukraine's allies. Here, the leak is combined with the public speeches of European politicians, particularly Olaf Scholz. Some propagandists write that the leak was allegedly organized by the "Anglo-Saxons" to "take revenge" on Scholz for his words the day before about the presence of British and French specialists in Ukraine who allegedly monitor the guidance of their long-range missiles. Others, on the contrary, claim that the Germans themselves organized the leak to explain their refusal to supply Taurus missiles to Ukraine allegedly. "The more noise there is, the easier it will be for Scholz and Pistorius to deny Ukraine the transfer of missiles," writes the propaganda anonymous Telegram channel (404,000 subscribers).

Both conspiratorial versions link the publication of the conversation to the recent words of Macron and other French officials about the possible deployment of NATO troops to Ukraine. "It is unknown whether Macron and Scholz coordinated with each other, but they worked according to the classic "evil detective — good detective" scheme. As a result, the world witnessed a classic "moment of truth". Everyone recoiled at the prospect of fighting and dying for Ukraine," writes another anonymous Telegram channel (210,000 subscribers).

The essence of the messages promoted by Russian propagandists is as follows: allegedly growing contradictions among Ukraine's allies, the West is "weak, disunited, and incapable of joint organized actions." Allies of Ukraine are depicted as cynical "predators" who pursue only their interests and try to "drown" each other. Of course, in the picture the propagandists want to paint, the West will not be able to oppose the supposedly "united, consolidated Russia", and its victory in the war is inevitable.

Before the audio recording of the conversations of the German military was made public, the information space was already filled with messages that devalued Germany's aid to Ukraine. Because of this, the communication of German officials was a reaction to the intimidation and misinformation already circulating. In addition, advocates of Russian aggression are using public controversy over support for Ukraine to influence public opinion in Germany to increase Russia's chances of gaining a military advantage over Ukraine. This overlaps with pre-election disputes in the US regarding the transfer of aid to Ukraine. There, the assistance to Ukraine has been blocked since fall 2023 due to the delay of several parliamentarians from the Republican Party. According to the Kiel Institute, in terms of aid to Ukraine, the US, until February 15, 2024, was second, giving first place only to the EU institutions.

In the German case, the Russians again resorted to nuclear weapons threats. Russia uses such claims to force opponents to give in. According to the almost two-week information campaign results, the dominant position among Ukraine's partners remains that Ukraine needs aid. Germany has not retreated from the commitments it has made to help Ukraine. At most, representatives of the German authorities joined the initiative to purchase ammunition for Ukraine.

Image collage credits: Natalia Lobach

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