Following an unprecedented controversy in Germany and a diplomatic incident with Ukraine, German Navy Chief Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schönbach tended his resignation late on Saturday over his comments in New Delhi that Ukraine can never get back Crimea and Russian President Vladimir Putin “probably” deserved respect.
“I have asked Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht to relieve me from my duties with immediate effect,” Vice Adm Schoenbach said in a statement according to news agency Reuters. “The minister has accepted my request,” he added.
Vice Adm Schoenbach also apologized for his comments, the news agency said, “My rash remarks in India... are increasingly putting a strain on my office… I consider this step (the resignation) necessary to avert further damage to the German navy, the German forces, and, in particular, the Federal Republic of Germany.”
Speaking at an interactive session at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA) on Friday during his visit to India, the German Navy Chief said Crimean peninsula which was annexed by Russia from Ukraine is “gone” and “not coming back”.
He also questioned if Russia really wants to attack Ukraine. “Does Russia really want a small and tiny strip of Ukraine soil to integrate into their country? No, this is nonsense. Putin is probably putting pressure because can do it and he splits EU opinion. What he really wants is respect,” he said.
Further he stated: “He (Putin) wants high-level respect and my God giving some respect is low cost, even no cost. If I was asked, it is easy to give him the respect he really demands and probably also deserves. Russia is an old country, Russia is an important country. Even we India, Germany, need Russia. we need Russia against China…”
In the same context he added, "I am a very radical Roman Catholic. I’m believing in God and I believe in Christianity and there we have a Christian country even Putin, he’s an atheist but it doesn't matter. Having this big country on our side...”
Earlier in the day on Saturday, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said it summoned German Ambassador Anka Feldhusen in Kiev to stress “the categorical unacceptability” of his comments.
German Ministry of Defence in Berlin distanced itself from his comments stating that Navy chief’s statement in “no way correspond to the position of the [German government] in terms of content and choice of words.” He was also given the opportunity to make a statement to the Inspector General of the German military, according to Germany’s Bild newspaper.
Later, Vice Adm Schoenbach backtracked from his comments in a post on Twitter saying “it was clearly a mistake.” “My defence policy remarks during a talk session at a think tank in India reflected my personal opinion in that moment. They in no way reflect the official position of the defence ministry,” he said in another tweet.
Raising the issue on social media, Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Ukraine is grateful to Germany for the support it has already provided since 2014, as well as for the diplomatic efforts to resolve the Russian-Ukrainian armed conflict. “But Germany’s current statements are disappointing and run counter to that support and effort,” he said on Twitter.
He further added: “The German partners must stop undermining unity with such words and actions and encouraging [Russian President] Vladimir Putin to launch a new attack on Ukraine.”In addition to the comments, in a reference to reports that Germany had blocked Estonia from sending German-made weapons to Ukraine, Mr. Kuleba added, “Germany’s recent statements about the impossibility of transferring defence weapons to Ukraine, particular due to permission to third parties, the futility of returning Crimea, hesitations to disconnect Russia from SWIFT - do not correspond to the level of our relations and the current security situation.”
Vice Adm Schoenbach’s comments came at a time when the new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is trying to play a critical role on dialling down tensions over the Russian buildup along the border with Ukraine, and the decision by the U.S. and some NATO members to bolster arms and ammunition supplies to the Ukrainian army to counter any possible Russian invasion.