The head of Germany’s navy resigned after his comments on Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine caused backlash.
At an event in India on Friday, Vice-admiral Kay-Achim Schönbach argued that Putin was not interested in taking any territory from Ukraine. “Is Russia really interested in having a tiny strip of Ukrainian soil, to integrate into their country?” he said.
Schönbach suggested that Putin is really looking for respect. “On eye level, he wants respect. And my God, giving him respect is low cost, even no cost. It is easy to give him the respect he demands, and probably deserves,” he said.
Schönbach said Crimea is “gone” and said the territory would “never come back” to Ukraine. He also argued that if the West had closer ties with Moscow, it would keep Russia away from China.
Amid heightened tensions with Russia, Ukrainian officials have been extra sensitive. Schönbach’s comments upset Andriy Melnyk, the Ukrainian ambassador in Germany. Melnyk said Schoenback “massively called into question Germany’s trustworthiness and reliability, not just from a Ukrainian point of view.”
Germany has already been under pressure for not joining its NATO allies in sending weapons to Ukraine. The new coalition government in Berlin has agreed not to send weapons to potential conflict zones and is sticking by the policy. Germany also has an interest in reducing tensions so the Nord Stream 2 pipeline can finally carry gas.
Even though Germany is taking a different approach than its NATO allies, Schönbach still felt pressured enough to resign after the sin of speaking favorably of Putin and realistically on Crimea.
My careless comments in India on security and military policy are an increasing burden on my office,” Schönbach said in a statement explaining why he resigned. “I consider this step necessary to avoid further damage to the German navy, the German military, but especially the Federal Republic of Germany.”