Germany’s navy chief resigned Saturday amid criticism over his comments on the Russo-Ukrainian conflict at an Indian think-tank discussion.
Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schönbach said that Ukraine taking back control over the Crimean Peninsula once again was unlikely.
He also suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to be treated with respect during a Friday live broadcast shared by the New-Delhi based defense analysis think tank Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.
German 🇩🇪 Vice-Admiral Kay-Achim Schönbach reportedly stepped down as the head of the German navy after publicly saying Crimea was lost to Ukraine and that Vladimir Putin "probably" deserved respect.https://t.co/c4eXHOQCH4
— Velina Tchakarova (@vtchakarova) January 22, 2022
“I have asked Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht to relieve me from my duties with immediate effect,” Schönbach said in a statement, according to Reuters. “The minister has accepted my request.”
Schönbach was in New Delhi as part of an official visit to India when he participated in the think tank discussion.
“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 he can do it and he splits EU opinion. What he really wants is respect,” he said.
“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,” he added.
Schönbach made these remarks amid NATO fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine sparked by massive troop buildups along the Russo-Ukrainian border.
In a bid to support the Ukrainian armed forces against a possible Russian incursion into Ukrainian lands, the United States delivered ammunition and other supplies on Friday. The 100-ton shipment to the country was part of the $200 million in aid the U.S. has set aside for the Eastern European nation.
Fox News reported that the Department of State had instructed family members of U.S. Embassy workers in Ukraine to begin leaving the country as an impasse develops between Russia on one side and Ukraine and NATO on the other.
The State Department is reportedly expected to ask American civilians to begin their departure from the country on civilian flights “while those are still available” in the upcoming week.
Schönbach also commented on the 2014 Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula during his discussion, saying that Crimea is “gone” and that it is “not coming back” to Ukraine. His remarks went against the Western consensus that Crimea is Ukrainian territory illegally occupied by Russia.
According to Reuters, Germany’s defense ministry disassociated itself from Schönbach’s remarks. The former navy chief also apologized for his comments, the news wire reported.
“My rash remarks in India … are increasingly putting a strain on my office,” Schönbach said, according to Reuters. “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.”
The remarks on Russia were not the only ones that likely landed Schönbach in trouble.
He had also criticized China during the discussion. Just a day before, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi and his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock had a virtual meeting where Baerbock, according to China’s foreign ministry, said: “in the face of various global challenges, Germany-China cooperation is of great significance.”
“China is not that nice a country we probably thought of,” Shoenbach said. “China is globally a rival.”