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Under Fire: Home & Abroad

German Navy Chief Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schonbach resigned on January 23 (2022), a couple of days after his controversial comments during an event hosted by Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MPIDSA), a military think tank based in the Indian capital of New Delhi. On January 21, the visiting German Navy officer reportedly said that Crimea would never return to Ukraine, and Russian President Vladimir Putin should be deserved respect!

As expected, Vice Admiral (Retired) Schonbach’s call to show respect toward President Putin triggered a controversy, as Ukraine summoned the German ambassador in Kiev on January 22 to protest the remarks by Schonbach. After considering the situation, he decided to tender resignation to German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht, who accepted his resignation. Schonbach told the German media: “My position is increasingly burdened by the ill-advised comments on Security and Military Policy that I made in India.

Schonbach (R) with Indian Navy Chief Admiral R Hari Kumar (L) in New Delhi

Speaking at a seminar organised by the MPIDSA, Schonbach said that Russia would never invade Ukraine for that tiny territory. He further said that what Putin wanted was “to be respected“, stressing: “It’s easy to give him the respect he wants, and probably deserves as well.” He suggested that President Putin’s underlying goal in the Ukraine standoff was to win affirmation for Russia as a Major Power. Schoenbach, even, cast his doubt upon Ukraine’s aspirations of NATO membership, supported by the US and its allies (despite the Russian objections), stating: “Is it smart to have them as a member? No, it’s not.

As Germany maintains cordial diplomatic ties with Ukraine, Schonbach’s comments disturbed the top political leadership in Berlin. Although Schoenbach made it clear that his comments did not represent the Government’s view, he was forced to resign. He clarified that he decided to resign in order “to avoid any more damage being done to the German Navy and above all, to the German Federal Republic“.

German Chancellor Scholz & Russian President Putin

Experts are of the opinion that Schoenbach’s comments created an awkward diversion, as the US and Europe already responded to the Ukraine standoff after President Putin stationed an estimated 100,000 troops on the Russia-Ukraine border. Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz made an attempt to normalise the situation, saying that his country would not arm Ukraine, as Berlin wanted Russia and Ukraine to resolve the issue through peaceful negotiation. Germany’s policy is to refrain from exporting “lethal weapons”, added the Chancellor. For his part, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Ivanovich Kuleba said that Kiev expressed “deep disappointment” to the German ambassador about Berlin’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,” he stated in a series of tweets.

Although Schoenbach has become a scapegoat, it seems that Germany is all set to change its Russia Policy. Unlike Angela Merkel, her successor Chancellor Scholz wants to boost Germany-Russia ties. However, such a move may have a negative impact on Germany-EU relations.

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