Status: 25.09.2023, 12:00 p.m.
By: Jens Kiffmeier
Reports the destruction of a Leopard tank: Russian President Vladimir Putin. © Russian Look/Imago/Screenshot/Telegram/Montage
A Bundeswehr soldier in Russian captivity: Putin's propaganda reports on the arrest of a German Leopard crew at the front. What's behind it?
Moscow – Delicate matter: Russia's army claims to have destroyed a Leopard-2 tank in the Ukraine war and captured a German crew in the process. Putin's propaganda channels spread this message at lightning speed on Monday (25 September). At the time of his arrest, the soldier stated that he was a member of the Bundeswehr. A member of the German armed forces at the front? The excitement on social networks was immediately great. But doubts are justified. When asked, the Bundeswehr firmly rejected the reports.
Leopard 2 tanks in the Ukraine war: Russia claims to have caught German soldiers at the front
Fierce fighting is currently raging in the Ukraine war. Especially near Zaporizhzhia, the Ukrainian army recently achieved a breakthrough in the course of the counteroffensive and minimally changed the course of the front. However, Russia claims to have destroyed a German Leopard 2 tank with an anti-tank missile in one of the battles, as reported by the Russian news agency Ria Novosti. The majority of the crew had died, therefore. Only one mechanic on board survived.
The report cannot be independently verified. Nevertheless, several Russian Telegram channels and news portals picked up on the message and reported on the alleged arrest: "The mechanic repeatedly stated that he was not a mercenary, but a soldier of the Bundeswehr, and that he and the rest of the crew were members of the same unit of the Bundeswehr," militarywatchmagazine.com quoted the commander of the assault operation. When he was arrested, the man shouted at German: "Don't shoot!" However, the news site is not considered an independent source. Rather, she repeatedly attracted attention in the Ukraine war as a propaganda mouthpiece for Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin. This is not the first time that Leopard 2 tanks have been presented like trophies.
The news spread like wildfire on the Internet. There has been a lot of speculation on social networks such as X and Telegram. It was speculated that the captured soldier might actually have been a Bundeswehr soldier. However, he may not have been in active use at the front, but as a mechanic he only wanted to salvage a previously destroyed tank for repair, the Austrian news site exxpress.at picked up on the rumors on the net.
German soldier on the front line in the Ukraine war: Bundeswehr denies report
But the Federal Ministry of Defense of Boris Pistorius (SPD) immediately rejected the report. "There are no Bundeswehr soldiers on combat duty in Ukraine," a spokeswoman said in response to a request from Merkur.de of IPPEN. MEDIA immediately. However, she did not want to comment further on the incident.
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Counteroffensive in the war against Russia: Germany provides Ukraine with many Leopard 2 tanks
In fact, Germany is providing Ukraine with great weapons assistance for the counteroffensive in the war against Russia. In addition to missile systems, the Bundeswehr also supplies tanks, both older models of the Leopard-1 type and the modern Leopard-2 type. The latter is considered one of the most modern main battle tanks in the world and could become a gamechanger in the conflict. For weeks, Ukrainian soldiers were trained on the tank in Germany. Because the delivery includes only the tank, not a German crew. The Federal Government had made this clear several times.
Fearing a further escalation, the German government, together with its NATO partners, is very careful not to be perceived as part of the war. For example, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has already had to assure several times that Western tanks and long-range missiles will be used exclusively for national defense and not for attacks on Russian territory. Otherwise, NATO threatened to end its support.
Ukraine war: Many Germans active as mercenaries on the front line
Against this background, it is almost impossible for a Bundeswehr crew with a Leopard tank to be actively deployed at the front. However, Germans may well be involved in the fighting. For example, mercenaries from Germany have also signed up for military service in the Ukraine war - on both sides, by the way. In the past, there have been several reports that German fighters had signed up for Putin's army, the Wagner mercenaries or even for Ukraine. One of the most famous of them is Jonas Kratzenberg, who recently published a book about the horrors of being a legionnaire.
A specific number of German mercenaries in the Ukraine war is not known. But such operations are not forbidden. In Germany, however, it is not allowed to recruit openly. But for the volunteer fighters, war is a dangerous game. This is because it is disputed what law they are subject to in the event of capture. As soldiers, they should actually be treated according to the Geneva Convention. This does not apply to mercenaries – especially in Russia.
In this respect, it would not be surprising if a mercenary insists on being a member of an army when he is arrested. But it is also quite possible that the Kremlin is deliberately staging it in order to further fuel the conflict. (jkf)