Germany’s navy chief resigned Saturday after making controversial comments about Russia that sparked a diplomatic row between Berlin and Kyiv.
The Defense Ministry informed parliament’s defense committee that Vice Admiral Kai-Achim Schoenbach’s resignation was accepted, German news agency DPA reported.
The navy chief came under fire for remarks made during a think-tank meeting in India where he said Russia has no intention of invading Ukraine, and President Vladimir Putin deserves respect.
Ukraine summoned the German ambassador and asked Berlin to publicly refute the comments.
During his address at the IDSA think-tank, Schoenbach played down the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine and advocated building good ties with Moscow.
“Is Russia really interested in having a small, tiny strip of Ukraine soil? To integrate into the country? No, this is nonsense,” Schoenbach said, adding that Putin’s aim has been to create divisions among European countries, and he wants Western nations to treat Russia with respect.
"What he really wants is respect. He wants respect on a high level. And my God, giving some respect is low cost, even no cost. So if I was asked, it is easy to give him the respect he really demands and probably also deserves,” he said.
Calling Russia an important nation, the German navy commander called for building good ties with Moscow, arguing that its support is needed to counter China.
“Even we, India, Germany, need Russia, because we need Russia against China,” he said.
Schoenbach also claimed that Ukraine would never regain Crimea, which was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014.
“The Crimean Peninsula is gone, it will never come back, this is a fact,” he said.
Earlier Saturday, the German Defense Ministry distanced itself from the navy chief’s comments and said in a statement that the remarks do not in any way correspond to the position of the ministry.
Schoenbach also said on Twitter that he shared his personal opinions during the discussion and they do not reflect the official positions of the government.
“There is nothing to quibble about it, that was a clear mistake,” he said.
The latest controversy exposed deep differences within the NATO alliance about how to deter Russia from further aggression against Ukraine.
Germany, which has long pursued a cautious policy toward Moscow, remains reluctant to block the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, despite repeated calls from the US and NATO’s eastern members to take a harsher stance with Russia.
The German government also opposed sending lethal weapons to Ukraine, arguing that it would escalate military tensions and undermine efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict.
According to a report by The Wall Street Journal, Germany turned down a recent request by NATO ally Estonia to issue permits for German-origin weapons to be exported to Ukraine.
Russia recently amassed tens of thousands of troops near Ukraine’s eastern border, prompting fears that Kremlin could be planning another military offensive against its ex-Soviet neighbor.
Moscow has denied it is preparing to invade and said its troops are there for exercises.