German Navy Chief quits after row over his comments in Delhi on Ukraine

Germany’s Navy Chief, who was on a visit to India over the last few days, has stepped down after his remarks at an event in Delhi elicited sharp response from the German government and Ukraine.

Speaking at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MPIDSA) on Friday, Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schönbach had stated that Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted respect and that Crimea would never go back to Ukraine. Russia had annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 amid global criticism.

Schönbach said “the Crimean Peninsula is gone. It’s never coming back. This is a fact.”

“Is Russia really interested in a small 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 knows, he split us, he splits the European Union. What he really wants is respect,” he said.

Schönbach underlined that he is a Roman Catholic, and believes “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. I think having this big country, even if it is not a democracy, on our side” is important as it will probably keep “Russia away from China”. He, however, criticised Russia for its actions in Chechnya.

His comments came even as western nations are concerned that Russia is planning an offensive against Ukraine and has put more than 100,000 troops along the border. While the UK and the US have been sending weapons to Ukraine, Germany has refused to do it.

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Reuters reported from Berlin that Schönbach tendered his resignation late on Saturday. He said in a statement, “I have asked Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht to relieve me from my duties with immediate effect,” the report mentioned, adding, “The minister has accepted my request.”

Ukraine had objected to Schönbach’s comments, saying that Germany’s actions and words will “undermine” the unity against Russia, and will “encourage” Putin. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted on Saturday, “Recent statements by Germany about the impossibility of transferring defence weapons to Ukraine, in 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.”

He mentioned in two more tweets that “the unity of the West with Russia is more important than ever” today to and to “achieve it and deter the Russian Federation, we are all working together. German partners must stop such words and actions to undermine unity and encourage Vladimir Putin to a new attack on Ukraine.”

Kuleba, however, thanked Germany for its support over the last seven years. He said, “Ukraine is grateful to Germany for its support since 2014, as well as for its diplomatic efforts to resolve the Russian-Ukrainian armed conflict. But Germany’s current statements are disappointing and run counter to this support and effort.”

Ukraine’s government said Saturday that it had summoned German Ambassador Anka Feldhusen to stress “the categorical unacceptability” of Schönbach’s comments.

Backtracking on his remarks in an attempt to douse the diplomatic controversy, Schönbach issued a statement on Twitter saying, “My security policy statements in a talk show at a think tank in India gave my personal opinion for that moment on the spot. They do not correspond in any way to the official position” of the German Ministry of Defence. He added that he “carelessly, misjudged the situation, I shouldn’t have done it like that… it was a clear mistake.”

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But he later tendered his resignation. Germany’s Bild newspaper reported that the Defence Ministry in Germany had asked Schönbach to clarify his comments. It said, BILD reported, “In terms of content and choice of words, the statements in no way correspond” to the ministry’s position” and “Admiral Schönbach is given the opportunity to make a statement to the Inspector General.”

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