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German Navy Head Resigns over Resonant Comments on Ukraine

Kay-Achim Schönbach

Against the background of Germany’s refusal to supply weapons to Ukraine and attempts to block such supplies, a serious international scandal has erupted over the resonant remarks by Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schönbach, the head of the German Navy.

During a conference at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi, India, the head of the German Navy expressed doubts that Ukraine would be able to regain the temporarily occupied Crimea, and suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin deserved “respect.”

“As for what happened in Ukraine, the Crimean peninsula is gone: It will never come back — this is a fact,” Schönbach said.

He noted that Ukraine needs to meet all the requirements of the Alliance in order to join NATO. Currently, this is impossible due to the occupation of its territories. In addition, Schönbach called talk of a possible invasion of Russian troops in Ukraine nonsense.

Official Kyiv reacted immediately and called such statements categorically unacceptable. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine demanded that the German government publicly refute the words of the head of the German Navy and also summoned the German ambassador on this occasion.

“The Crimean peninsula can be lost only in the imagination of the German Vice Admiral. Crimea will certainly return, thanks to the persistent efforts of Ukraine and its partners who will show their determination in countering the aggressor state. In this regard, we need clarification from the German government on how the words of the Navy commander correlate with Germany’s consistent support the Crimea Platform,” said Oleg Nikolenko, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine.

The Federal Ministry of Defence called the statement by the head of the German Navy “in no way consistent with the position of the Federal Ministry of Defence.”

For his part, Schönbach wrote on his Twitter account that the remarks on Crimea and Putin were his personal opinion.

“My defence policy remarks during a talk session at a think tank in India reflected my personal opinion in that moment. They in no way reflect the official position of the Ministry of Defence … Carelessly, misjudged the situation, I should not have done it like that. There is no need to quibble: it was clearly a mistake,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, one of the most popular German newspapers, Bild, published a call for the German government to dismiss the commander of the Navy after his words. Journalists do not consider it sufficient for Schönbach’s public statement that his remark on Ukraine was his personal opinion.

“Resign, Vice Admiral! Otherwise, the head of the Ministry of Defence should intervene and fire him immediately,” the newspaper stated.

Later, several German media outlets reported that on Saturday, 22 January, the Vice Admiral asked Minister of Defence Christine Lambrecht to relieve him from his duties, and she accepted his request.

An official announcement from the Federal Ministry of Defence on this matter is expected in the near future.

Bohdan Marusyak

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