German navy chief forced to resign after drawing criticism for saying Russia's Putin deserves respect

German navy chief forced to resign after drawing criticism for saying Russia's Putin deserves respect

Germany's navy chief has been forced to resign from his post after drawing criticism from the German government and Ukraine over his remarks in support of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"I have asked Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht to relieve me from my duties with immediate effect," Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schoenbach said in a statement on Saturday, adding, "The minister has accepted my request."

Speaking to a think-tank discussion in India on Friday, the video of which was later posted on the social media, Schoenbach said Putin deserved respect and that Ukraine would never be able to reclaim its former territory of Crimea, which joined the Russian Federation in a referendum in 2014.

"What he (Putin) really wants is respect," Schoenbach told the discussion. "And my God, giving someone respect is low cost, even no cost... It is easy to give him the respect he really demands - and probably also deserves," he added, calling Russia an old and important country.

Elsewhere in his remarks, Schoenbach added that "the Crimea Peninsula is gone, it will never come back; this is a fact," contradicting the joint Western position that Moscow has "annexed" the territory.

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Prior to Schoenbach's resignation, the German Defense Ministry publicly criticized his remarks, saying they did not reflected Germany's position in either content or wording.

Schoenbach apologized for his comments, saying, "My rash remarks in India ... are increasingly putting a strain on my office."

He added, "I consider this step (the resignation) necessary to avert further damage to the German navy, the German forces, and, in particular, the Federal Republic of Germany."

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry also called on Germany to publicly reject the navy chief's comments, saying in a statement that Schoenbach's comments could impair efforts made by the Western countries to de-escalate the situation.

"Ukraine is grateful to Germany for the support it has already provided since 2014, as well as for the diplomatic efforts to resolve the Russian-Ukrainian armed conflict. But Germany's current statements are disappointing and run counter to that support and effort,"  Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said separately in tweet.

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Kiev has also reacted by summoning Berlin's ambassador to protest the remarks.

Germany had already enraged Ukraine by refusing to deliver arms to the country, with Berlin saying that there’s no consensus among German politicians over the matter.

The United States and its European allies have refused to recognize the Crimean referendum's results, accusing Moscow of having a hand in an armed conflict that has been raging in two Ukrainian regions.

Russia denies the allegations, but this has not stopped the Western allies from imposing sanctions on Moscow.

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