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Were German army soldiers killed after a Russian strike in Ukraine?

FILE -  A Leopard 2 tank is seen in action in Augustdorf, Germany, Feb. 1, 2023.
FILE - A Leopard 2 tank is seen in action in Augustdorf, Germany, Feb. 1, 2023. Copyright Martin Meissner/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Martin Meissner/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Sophia Khatsenkova
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The German Defense Ministry has denied the bombshell accusation put forward by the Russian news agency RIA Novosti that four Germany army soldiers were killed aboard a Leopard tank in Ukraine.

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It’s an explosive allegation: Members of the German army - and therefore NATO forces - are accused of taking part in combat operations against Russia in Ukraine.

According to multiple socialmedia users, officers of the Russian Armed Forces destroyed a Leopard tank transferred to Ukraine with an entirely German crew of Bundeswehr soldiers inside.

"Russia claims to have encountered German soldiers fighting in Ukraine. Are NATO troops now involved in this war?" asked one X user. 

It appears the allegation was first shared by the Russian state media Ria Novosti on 23 September.

But once you read the article, things start getting a little murky. 

The information comes from one single source: an unnamed Russian Army officer who claims to speak German fluently.

He explains he found a dying mechanic onboard a destroyed Leopard tank who then confided in him that the rest of the dead crew were part of the Bundeswehr (German army). 

We could not independently verify these claims and Ria Novosti is known to spread pro-Kremlin disinformation.

An accusation vehemently denied by the German Ministry of Defense

Other online articles in French even purport the German Ministry of Defense admitted these accusations were true. 

But Euronews found no such statement on their website, nor in German media. 

Speaking to Deutsche Welle, the German MoD denied these claims. “There are no German tank crews in Ukraine,” emphasised one of the official representatives of the Ministry.

According to their website, Germany supports Ukraine by supplying weapons and equipment from Bundeswehr stocks, including Leopard 2 tanks, considered one of the most modern armoured vehicles in the world. 

Ukrainian soldiers were trained in Germany over the past few months on how to manoeuvre the tanks and other artillery. But the delivery only includes the tanks and military hardware, not a German crew. 

Berlin and its NATO partners have avoided playing a direct part on the ground in the conflict. 

Reports of German mercenaries

According to the German newspaper Merkur, there have been reports of Germans taking part in the fighting in Ukraine but only as mercenaries either for Moscow or Kyiv.

Merkur reminds us that while it is legal for a German to become a mercenary in Ukraine, the fighters are not protected under the Geneva Convention if ever taken prisoner, especially in Russia.

Therefore, in order to escape guaranteed torture or execution, "it would not be surprising if a mercenary insisted upon being captured as a member of an army", explains the German journalist.

But it is also quite possible that the Kremlin is deliberately staging a situation in order to further fuel the conflict.

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