German navy chief Kay-Achim Schönbach resigns over ‘ill-considered’ Ukraine-Russia comments

The head of the German navy resigned late Saturday after coming under fire at home and abroad for comments he made on Ukraine and Russia, that were widely circulated online.

Vice-admiral Kay-Achim Schönbach said during a visit to India on Friday that Ukraine would never regain the Crimean Peninsula, annexed by Russia in 2014. He also questioned Western views over Vladimir Putin’s intentions regarding Ukraine, adding that the Russian president deserved “respect”.

By late Saturday, Schönbach had asked for his dismissal, saying he wanted to prevent further damage resulting to Germany and its military from his “ill-considered statements”.

In a statement, the German navy said the defence minister had accepted Schönbach’s resignation and appointed his deputy as interim naval chief.

Earlier, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry summoned the German ambassador to object to a video in which the German navy chief was seen making the comments.

What the Russian president wants “is to be respected”, Schönbach said at a meeting in New Delhi on Friday.

“It is easy to accord him the respect he wants, and which he also probably deserves,” the navy chief added, describing the idea that Russia wanted to invade part of Ukraine as “an absurdity”.

Schönbach was also called upon at home to explain his views. These declarations “do not correspond at all to the position of the German ministry of defence,” a spokesperson told AFP.

The German government has insisted that it stands united with its NATO allies on the issue of Russia’s military threat to Ukraine, warning that Moscow will pay a high price if it makes any military moves against its neighbour.

But unlike many other NATO countries, Berlin says it won’t supply Ukraine with lethal weapons, arguing that it doesn’t want to inflame tensions further.

This provoked a diplomatic row with Kyiv on Saturday, Ukraine’s foreign minister accusing Berlin of “encouraging” Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In a newspaper interview, German defence minister Christine Lambrecht said that sending military aid now would not help “defuse the crisis”.

Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba responded by saying “German partners must stop such words and actions to undermine unity and encourage Vladimir Putin to a new attack on Ukraine”.