German Navy chief quits over Putin remarks in India
Russian president Vladimir Putin (Photo by MIKHAIL METZEL/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)
THE German Navy chief on Saturday (22) quit his post after receiving a backlash over his remark that Russian president Vladimir Putin deserved respect and that Ukraine would never regain Crimea which had been annexed by Moscow in 2014.
He made his controversial remark during a think-tank discussion in India on Friday (21).
In a statement, vice admiral Kay-Achim Schoenback said in a statement, “I have asked Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht to relieve me from my duties with immediate effect.”
He said the minister accepted his request.
A video of the words uttered by Schoenbach, who was serving in the position since March last year, was circulated on social media. They came at a time when Russia has mobilised tens of thousands of troops on its borders with Ukraine, which was a part of the erstwhile Soviet Union.
Diplomatic efforts are being made on preventing an escalation over Ukraine. The Kremlin, however, has denied that it is planning to invade Ukraine.
In New Delhi, Schoenback said in English that the Russian president wants to be treated as an equal by the West, with which his country has historically been at loggerheads.
“What he (Putin) really wants is respect,” Schoenbach said.
“And my God, giving someone respect is low cost, even no cost… It is easy to give him the respect he really demands – and probably also deserves,” Schoenbach said, calling Russia an old and important country.
While the German official conceded that Moscow’s actions in Ukraine needed to be addressed, he added that “the Crimea peninsula is gone, it will never come back, this is a fact”, contradicting the joint Western position that Moscow’s annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine cannot be accepted and must be reversed.
Prior to the navy chief’s resignation, his remarks were criticised by the German defence ministry, saying they did not reflect Berlin’s position in either content or wording.
Schoenbach, 66, apologised for his comments later.
“My rash remarks in India … are increasingly putting a strain on my office,” he said.
“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,” he added.
The Ukrainian foreign ministry had called on Germany to publicly reject the former navy chief’s comments. Ukraine summoned the German ambassador in Kyiv earlier on Saturday.
Schoenbach’s comments could hurt western efforts to de-escalate the situation, Kyiv said in a statement.
“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,” Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a tweet.