On Saturday, Germany was embroiled in a diplomatic row over statements made by Navy Chief Kay-Achim Schönbach about Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Ukraine issue. Schönbach resigned from his position on Saturday evening.
Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schoenbach said in a statement published by the Reuters news agency, “I have asked Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht to release me from my duties with immediate effect.”
“My request has been accepted by the minister,” he continued.
Schönbach’s decision was influenced by a speech he gave on a trip to India. The German vice-admiral claimed Putin “definitely” deserved respect while speaking at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.
“What he actually wants is respect,” the vice admiral remarked in an English-language video that was broadcast on YouTube.
“And, my God, showing someone respect is cheap, if not free…. It’s simple to show him the respect he truly demands – and most likely also deserves “Russia, according to Schönbach, is an old and important country.
“The Crimea Peninsula is gone: It will never come back – this is a truth,” Schönbach said, adding that Russia’s activities in Ukraine needed to be addressed.
The views directly contradicted the official positions of the European Union and the United States. The United States and its allies think Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine was illegal and must be overturned.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry announced on Saturday that it had summoned German Ambassador Anka Feldhusen to express “categorical unacceptability” of Schönbach’s remarks.
The navy chief’s remarks come after Russia massed tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine’s borders, stoking concerns of an invasion. Russia has rejected any intention of attacking Ukraine.
Although it distanced itself from Schönbach’s comments on Saturday, the German government made no official statement.
“The remarks’ content and wording in no way relate to the Federal Ministry of Defense’s position,” a German Defense Ministry spokesman told public television ZDF.
According to the ministry, Schönbach must now explain himself to his supervisor, Inspector General Eberhard Zorn. On Monday, Germany’s ruling coalition will review the navy chief’s remarks, according to ZDF.
Schönbach, on his part, apologised on his Twitter account. He tweeted, “There is no need to quibble: it was clearly a mistake.”