US reportedly foiled Russian plot to kill boss of German arms firm supplying Ukraine

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US intelligence services have foiled a Russian plot to assassinate the chief executive of Germany’s leading arms manufacturer, in an apparent attempt at retaliation over the company’s role in providing a large amount of armaments for Ukraine, according to reports on Thursday.

The plot to murder Rheinmetall CEO Armin Papperger, was one of several Russian government plans to kill defence industry executives in several countries in Europe who have been supporting Ukraine’s war effort, unidentified US and western officials told CNN.

The plans to kill Papperger were in the most advanced stages of any of the plots, the investigators reportedly said.

US authorities had immediately informed their German counterparts, according to the report, and security around Papperger and Rheinmetall was stepped up accordingly.

Rheinmetall has declined to comment but said in a statement to media that “necessary measures are always taken” in regular consultation with security authorities.

German authorities have yet to respond to requests for comment but a government official confirmed that the US had warned Berlin about the plot.

The company is one of the world’s biggest armaments’ producers, making artillery and tank shells as well as armoured vehicles. It considerably ramped up its production following Russia’s full-blown invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

In February, Rheinmetall announced plans to open an ammunition factory in Ukraine to produce and repair armoured vehicles.

Observers noted that a patrol car and several police officers carrying submachine guns have been parked in front of the Rheinmetall headquarters in the western German city of Düsseldorf every day for months, while Papperger has had visible personal protection for a similar time period. In public settings, such as football matches, cultural events and association meetings, he has been accompanied by security provided by the police from the state of North Rhein Westphalia – one of only a handful of people to be afforded such protection.

He has not commented on the reported threats himself.

Rheinmetall has been described since the outbreak of the full-blown invasion and Germany’s subsequent involvement as one of the biggest suppliers of weapons to Kyiv as a thorn in the side of the Russian state.

The Ukrainian army is equipped with a range of weapons from the German manufacturer, including Leopard 1 main battle tanks and Marder infantry fighting vehicles. In addition the company has supplied Ukraine with vital 155mm artillery shells, which have been central to Ukraine’s unrelenting war of attrition, and provided a comprehensive service involving repair, delivery and replacement parts.

The assassination plot revelations come amid a flurry of incidents believed to be part of a systematic Russian sabotage campaign in revenge for support for Ukraine. It has reportedly recruited amateurs locally to carry out everything from arson attacks on warehouses and shopping centres to smaller actions, including acts of vandalism and graffiti, as well as espionage operations, all intended to undermine Ukraine’s war effort and to help dent public support for Ukraine. The actions have been described as a “shadow war” Moscow is carrying out in western Europe.

On Thursday, a senior Nato official told reporters attending the alliance’s conference in Washington that the sabotage campaign had been increasing in intensity and had to be taken extremely seriously.

“We’re seeing sabotage, we’re seeing assassination plots, we’re seeing arson. We’re seeing things that have cost in human lives,” he said. “I believe very much that we’re seeing a campaign of covert sabotage activities from Russia that have strategic consequences.”

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