Berlin: Germany’s top naval officer resigned after comments he made about Russia, including a call to show respect toward President Vladimir Putin, caused a diplomatic incident.
Ukraine summoned the German ambassador in Kyiv earlier Saturday to protest the remarks by Navy Inspector Kay-Achim Schonbach, who also said Crimea would never return to Ukraine after its annexation by Russia in 2014.
“My position is increasingly burdened by the ill-advised comments on security and military policy that I made in India,” Schoenbach said in a statement released by the German navy. Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht has accepted his resignation, he said.
The comments, recorded this week during a talk by Schoenbach at a New Delhi-based think tank, created an awkward diversion as the U.S. and Europe respond to the Ukraine standoff after Putin massed an estimated 100,000 troops on the border.
The latest U.S.-Russian talks ended inconclusively this week. Aides to the Ukrainian, Russian, German and French leaders will probably meet on Wednesday in Paris, Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, said by text message.
In the video, Schonbach suggested Putin’s underlying goal was to win affirmation for Russia as a major power.
“It is easy to even give him the respect he really demands and probably also deserves,” Schoenbach said. He also cast doubt on Ukraine’s aspirations of NATO membership, which the U.S. and its allies want to maintain as an option, over Russian objections.
“Is it smart to have them as a member? No, it’s not,” he said.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Friday signaled reluctance to participate in any effort to arm Ukraine, saying his country’s policy is to refrain from exporting “lethal weapons.”
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Ukraine expressed “deep disappointment” to the ambassador about Germany’s refusal to provide Ukraine with “defensive weapons.”
“The German partners should stop undermining unity and encouraging Vladimir Putin for a new attack on Ukraine by such their words and acts,” Kuleba said in a series of tweets.
Schoenbach’s statement “reflect neither in wording nor in content the position of the German Defense Ministry,” a ministry spokesperson said earlier Saturday.
–With assistance from Birgit Jennen.