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US and Germany Foiled Russian Plot to Kill CEO of Arms Manufacturer Rheinmetall

Armin Papperger (Liesa Johannssen/Photographer: Liesa Johannssen/B)

(Bloomberg) -- US and German security services foiled a Russian plot to assassinate the chief executive officer of Rheinmetall AG, a German arms manufacturer producing weapons for Ukraine, people familiar with the matter said.

US intelligence officials who uncovered the scheme informed German security services, which thwarted it, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive information. Rheinmetall CEO Armin Papperger was given special protection as a result.

The plot against such a prominent figure marks a major escalation in what the US and its allies say has been a stepped-up campaign of so-called “hybrid warfare” — assassinations, cyberattacks, sabotage and other actions — by Russia in the more than two years since President Vladimir Putin’s forces invaded Ukraine. 

It was one of a series of Russian plans to kill defense executives in Europe whose companies were supplying Ukraine, according to CNN, which first reported on the assassination plan. The effort to target the Rheinmetall chief “was the most mature,” according to the report. 

US officials declined to comment on the specifics of the plot or confirm its existence. But intelligence officials on the continent have warned that Russian spy agencies have adopted more aggressive tactics, and Germany’s interior ministry said German counterintelligence prevented sabotage attempts aimed at military support for Ukraine.

“Russia is leading a hybrid war of aggression,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told reporters in Washington, where NATO alliance leaders were gathered for a three-day summit. “This underlines once again that we as Europeans need to defend ourselves better and shouldn’t be naive.”

Baerbock was similarly outspoken in 2019 after Germany expelled two Russian diplomats over an execution-style killing in a Berlin public park by a man with ties to Russian intelligence. She called it a “state-sponsored murder.”

Rheinmetall is one of the biggest German arms manufacturers and a key supplier for armed forces in Europe. It has seen sales surge amid the growing threat from Russia and questions around the US commitment to the NATO military alliance in case Donald Trump returns to the White House.

Shares of Rheinmetall traded 0.6% lower early Friday, after more than doubling over the past 12 months.

“The Russian threats are primarily aimed at undermining the support of Germany and our partners for Ukraine in its defense against the Russian war of aggression,” interior ministry spokesman Maximilian Kall said. “The Russian regime uses threats such as cyberattacks, disinformation, espionage and sabotage.”

National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson declined to comment on the report but said the US has been “intently focused” in recent months on what she called Russia’s “intensifying campaign of subversion.”

What Is Hybrid Warfare? How Is Russia Employing It?: QuickTake

“We are actively working together to expose and disrupt these activities,” Watson said of conversations with NATO allies about the matter. “We have also been clear that Russia’s actions will not deter Allies from continuing to support Ukraine.”

(An earlier version of the search headline corrected the spelling of the company name.) 

Rheinmetall spokesman Oliver Hoffmann declined to comment. In an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung set to appear on Friday, Papperger highlighted his company’s increasingly important role to Germany’s security.

“Before the war between Russia and Ukraine, security was not a high priority in Germany,” he told the newspaper, without commenting on the assassination plot. “Now politicians talk to us on a weekly, almost daily basis.”

--With assistance from Arne Delfs, Jennifer Jacobs and Jana Randow.

(Updates with shares. An earlier version corrected the spelling of CEO’s name in deck headline, duration of war in third paragraph.)

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