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24 February 2024, Hesse, Frankfurt/Main: Rally participants demand the delivery of Taurus cruise missiles on the second anniversary of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. Photo: Andreas Arnold/dpa (Photo by Andreas Arnold / DPA / dpa Picture-Alliance via AFP)

Taurus leak reveals Germany’s dilemma as Europe awakens to new security reality

The German Taurus leaks shed light not only on the technical details of a possible Taurus strike on the Crimean bridge, but Europe’s shifting security landscape, as France and Germany compete for leadership amid evolving US priorities and the urgent need to support Ukraine’s defense.
Taurus leak reveals Germany’s dilemma as Europe awakens to new security reality

On 1 March, Russian propaganda queen Margarita Simonyan shared a leak of German military officials discussing the possible delivery of Taurus missiles to Ukraine and their potential use to strike the Crimean Bridge, a lifeline for Russia’s occupation forces (read our exclusive translation here).

Mykhailo Samus, security analyst, director at The New Geopolitics Research Network and Deputy Director at the Army Research, Conversion, and Disarmament Center (CACDS).
Mykhailo Samus, security analyst, director at The New Geopolitics Research Network and Deputy Director at the Army Research, Conversion, and Disarmament Center (CACDS).

In it, they dispel one of German Chancellor Scholz’s arguments for withholding the missiles: German troops must not necessarily be on the ground in Ukraine to launch the missiles. They also attempt to navigate the “red lines” that Scholz maintains — avoiding “involvement” in the war in terms of planning operations, despite supplying weapons.

What does this intercept tell about the Taurus situation, are these indeed the weapons that could take down Ukraine’s Target Number One — the Crimean Bridge, sans which Russia would need to withdraw from Crimea, and what does the German Taurus leak tell us about the broader changing security situation in Europe?

We explain, with the help of comments from Mykhailo Samus, security analyst, director at The New Geopolitics Research Network, and Deputy Director at the Army Research, Conversion, and Disarmament Center (CACDS).

Intercept of German generals planning Taurus strike on Crimean bridge: full translation

Scholz’s Taurus stonewalling

Ukraine has been pushing for the missiles since May 2023; however, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has consistently opposed the decision, despite calls from the ruling coalition and opposition. Scholz cites various pretexts:

  • “Regarding long-range weapons, our position remains cautious” (26 June 2023)
  • A fear of Ukraine striking Russian territory with the 500-km missiles. Due to this, the German government started probing the possibility of limiting their range with the missile producer MBDA, a move opposed by the German Parliament, the Bundestag;
  • Taurus missiles were not transferred to Ukraine over “constitutional restrictions and the risk of escalation,” Scholz said on 6 October 2023.
  • Germany was searching for the “best moment” for such a transfer, Scholz said on 17 February 2024.
  • “It could lead to participation in the war”; “We must not be linked at any point or place to the goals that this system achieves,” Scholz said on 27 February, claiming that German soldiers needed to be sent to Ukraine to prepare this weapon — a claim rejected by the head of the Defense Committee in the Bundestag;
  • The missiles can reach Moscow in case of “misuse,” Scholz said on 29 February;
  • Germany wants to control the weapons systems that it sends to Ukraine, and in the case of the Taurus missiles, this is only possible with the participation of German soldiers on Ukrainian soil, he said on 4 March.

The German Taurus Leak did not expose anything new, Mykhailo Samus told Euromaidan Press.

Germany considered this at the military level, constantly at the technological level. All this was discussed in quite some detail already. And in principle, the issue of transferring the Taurus remains to be resolved only at the political level.”

However, Scholz was against it and remains against it.

As Samus put it earlier, the German Chancellor personally does not want to be the supplier of weapons that will destroy the Crimean (Kerch) Bridge.

This position is unlikely to change after the leaked talks between the generals, Samus says.

The generals do not represent any “Taurus party.” Their discussions do not concern any political problems: they talk only about military and technical issues.

They have to be ready for any political decision if one is made. For example, they checked its validity, checked the technical issues. […] Readiness, quantity, what problems may arise, and what needs to be done to solve them, how much it will cost to transfer the Tauruses to Ukraine. This is an absolutely normal practice when the Armed Forces are tasked with working out all possible options — in Germany, Ukraine, the United States, anywhere,” Samus said.

He asserts that the generals do not have their own opinions about Taurus supply, which dispels rumors that the German Taurus leak hits at Ukraine’s chances of finally receiving the coveted missiles due to the ostensibly pro-Taurus German military officials now getting in trouble.

They cannot have their own opinions. Just like Ukrainian generals cannot have their own opinions. The military carries out tasks, they cannot start engaging in politics because that would mean the end of the system,” Samus stresses.

However, pressure is growing on Scholz to deliver the Taurus missiles to Ukraine.

The Bundestag approved a resolution calling to supply Ukraine with long-range missiles, however without explicitly mentioning Taurus. Calls to give Ukraine the missiles are heard from the Bundestag Defense Committee Chief, former German president, and EU Parliament.

As well, pressure is growing from Germany’s partners in the military coalition to support Ukraine.

According to Bloomberg, the UK government privately urged Germany to provide them; earlier, the UK suggested a deal to supply Ukraine with more Storm Shadow missiles in return for replenishing its stocks with German Tauruses. Germany should stop making excuses, one British official told Bloomberg.

The growing British impatience is also registered in the German Taurus leak, where the German generals mention there might be “significant momentum building” from the UK and France, who are “almost out” of the Storm Shadow and Scalp missiles, to press Germany towards the move.

What are the possibilities of using Taurus missiles in Ukraine?

Some previously undisclosed details were revealed in the intercept.

  • Germany can deploy 50-100 Taurus missiles to Ukraine (out of the roughly 600 it has in its service);
  • Germany would draw on British and French experience integrating Storm Shadow and Scalp missiles on Ukraine’s Soviet-Era Sukhoy jets. This would have to be handled by the Taurus producer, who told it would take six months;
  • The industry would train operators and could take three-four months in Germany;
  • The missiles can potentially target either the Crimean (Kerch) Bridge or ammunition depots. It could be feasible to split the training into a fast track (two weeks), where operators would learn the basics, including destroying ammunition depots; and a long track (four months), where they could learn to destroy a target as complex as the bridge;
  • To effectively plan the mission to destroy the Crimean (Kerch) Bridge, Germany would need to provide Ukraine with centralized, image-based mission planning data, as well as elevation models. Modeling the target is a time-consuming, complex process essential for success and requires data transfers between Germany and Ukraine;
  • Navigating Russian air defenses remains an issue. German intelligence does not know the location of all Russian air defense units, but Ukraine hopefully does.
Taurus missiles to Ukraine Germany
The Taurus air-launched cruise missile has an operational range of approximately 500 kilometers, making it one of the longest-range conventional missiles in the world. Its dual-stage warhead with initial penetration and subsequent blast effect is designed to defeat hard and deeply buried targets. Credit: Taurus

Can Taurus missiles destroy the Crimean Bridge?

It is “fundamentally feasible,” an employee of the air operations center of the Bundeswehr Space Command said. “The bridge in the East is difficult to access, its pillars are relatively small, but the Taurus can accomplish this.” But 10-20 missiles would be needed because of its size.

The Crimea (Kerch) bridge, which connects occupied Crimea with mainland Russia, is seen as a crucial asset for Russia’s war against Ukraine, serving as a springboard and home base for its offensive operations in southeastern Ukraine.

If the bridge is destroyed, the situation would flip the military situation 180° in Ukraine’s favor, military analyst Mykola Bielieskov believes: even if the Russians manage to preserve the land connection to Crimea, it won’t be enough to sustain their grouping of forces in southeastern Ukraine: the capacity of their railway lines via the mainland is insufficient to keep military supplies flowing to such a large group.

However, making any sort of forecast is difficult, warns Mykhailo Samus.

You have to strike and see. A German general cannot guarantee whether it will work or not. The Crimean Bridge needs to be destroyed, that’s obvious. Obviously, the Ukrainian side is looking for such tools. One of these tools is the Taurus. But, of course, it’s not the last tool.

How effective these missiles are specifically against this bridge could only be said after a strike with several missiles, after which one can see how much this bridge can withstand. Theoretically, it’s hard to say here what will happen,” Samus stresses.

“Red lines” of the German Taurus leak and awakening of Europe

The hand-wringing with Taurus is akin to the decision to supply Leopard tanks to Ukraine, which was delayed by many months and finally took place in tandem with the USA’s decision on Abrams tanks in early 2022.

Preventing the delivery of the tanks back then, and the delivery of Taurus now, are Germany’s “red lines.” However, what they entail is not quite clear.

During the debate around the Leopard tanks, the main issue was a fear of Germany becoming a party to the conflict. The Leopard, a main battle tank, was perceived to be fundamentally different from the Gepard anti-air guns that Germany had already delivered.

Judging from the German Taurus leak, the red lines now are “being involved,” meaning playing a significant role in planning the battle operations to make strikes with Taurus missiles.

For a successful strike, the German teams in Büchel must do the planning, but the information must be transferred to Ukraine. A data link to Ukraine could be established through the international MBDA missile developer office in Schrobenhausen, or even be covertly transported by car to Poland, the military officials discussed.

But no, this is already “too direct involvement.”

Being involved means being involved, and I doubt we’ll be able to overcome this obstacle,” says Head of the operations and exercises department of the Bundeswehr Air Force Command Frank Gräfe.

The German generals could suggest a Ukrainian representative come over to Germany, even if training will take a longer time and the outcome will be worse. Perhaps, the British could train the Ukrainians to use Taurus missiles instead of the Germans?

Supporting Ukraine without “being involved” is a task that is extremely difficult to navigate, it follows from the conversation. Moreover, the generals have yet to find what the “red lines” actually are:

“There’s no reason to start with the assumption that something is impossible or a lost cause. It’s about finding where the political red lines lie,” says Bundeswehr Air Force inspector Ingo Gerhartz.

“The Germans always have a lot of red lines. At first, the was a red line was that their tanks with German crosses would be hitting Russians; this was impossible to imagine. But now, the tanks work in Ukraine, and there are no problems. This is more of a psychological thing: the Germans have a lot of historical, psychological stereotypes, and they really need to work on that,” Mykhalo Samus believes.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz still restrains from giving Taurus missiles to Ukraine. Credit: open sources

As for the Taurus missiles, one hundred of them flying towards the Crimean Bridge would be great, but they will not change the situation on the front: Ukraine needs 1,000 ATACMS, long-range missiles that remain undelivered due to an aid package stalled in US Congress, for that, Samus asserts.

Nevertheless, the bottom line is that Europe is waking up now, the expert states.

Europe is turning from an herbivore into a predator that it was 100 years ago, and Ukraine -200 years ago. I think Russia will really dislike this, that it awakened this predator. By dragging out its assistance, the United States actually greatly contributed to waking up Europe, in which France is competing with Germany for leadership now. 

As a rule, France was the leader in security and defense. Germany has never asserted itself here. It turns out that Germany is now providing more assistance to Ukraine. And so France is now saying: no, look, we are the leader, because we are now proposing to talk about sending troops

I think this statement is more serious – it’s about the old French idea of a European army, which includes not only the creation of military units but also the development of strategic components and communications, which Europe currently lacks as they depend on the Americans and NATO. The nuclear umbrella is a crucial issue because if the United States decides to reduce its nuclear weapons and withdraws its nuclear deterrence, Europe will be left to fend for itself in a chaotic world.

These processes are very interesting now, and I think the provision of Taurus missiles to Ukraine is just one aspect of this. Europe is awakening, and even if the United States approves assistance for 2024, Europe must be able to stand up for itself by 2025. If Europe doesn’t prepare for these changes now, it will be difficult to maintain stability later on. Europe would like to ensure stable development for the coming centuries and now is a very interesting time to do so.

The Russians’ decision to leak this conversation is puzzling because they burned an effective tool for obtaining information. They have a system for gathering intelligence that works throughout Germany and in the highest echelons of power. By leaking this conversation, they exposed their capabilities. The Germans will now work to cover it up. It’s unclear whether the Russians are genuinely afraid of the Taurus missiles or if they took too big a risk by revealing their hand earlier than necessary.

Not only Merkel and Schroeder: Germany’s Russia problem runs deep despite war in Ukraine

“The main objective for the Russians now is to prevent the United States from adopting a decision to continue assisting Europe and to undermine Ukraine’s resolve to resist by the end of 2024. If the United States stops helping, the Russians hope that Europe will not cope. However, it seems that even without US assistance, Europe will manage, and Ukraine will definitely not be ready to surrender by the end of 2024.

The Russians will now try to compromise European politicians in every possible way and attempt to create internal conflicts. The most interesting thing here is why the Russians leaked this conversation and whether it was a miscalculated spur-of-the-moment action. This will become clear soon as events unfold,” Samus told Euromaidan Press.

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