German Navy Chief Quits After Saying Putin, Russia Deserve Respect Over Ukraine

The head of Germany's navy has resigned after coming under fire for arguing that Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, deserved "respect."

Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schönbach handed in his resignation on Saturday after criticism of his comments, which were filmed and later posted on social media.

While at an event in New Delhi, India, on Friday, Schönbach also said the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014, would not return under Ukrainian control.

In comments captured on video, Schönbach said in English: "What he [Putin] really wants is respect. 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."

Schönbach later added: "The Crimean Peninsula is gone, it will never come back. This is a fact."

It comes as an estimated 100,000 Russian troops, armed with heavy weapons, have been amassed on the border with Ukraine.

Schönbach's comments sparked a furious reaction in Ukraine, where the German ambassador was summoned in order to lodge a complaint, the Associated Press reports.

Berlin also responded with a swift rebuke and by Saturday evening, Schönbach had requested to be dismissed, according to the news agency.

Schönbach said he wanted to limit further damage to Germany and its military from his "ill-considered statements."

German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht has accepted Schönbach's resignation and appointed his deputy as interim naval chief, AP reported.

Newsweek has contacted the German navy for comment.

Germany has insisted it stands alongside NATO allies over Russia's military threat to Ukraine, but so far has refused to supply Kyiv with weapons.

Earlier this week, German Defense Minister Lambrecht told the newspaper Welt am Sonntag that there was "consensus in the federal government" that arms deliveries to Ukraine are "currently not helpful."

Ukraine's ambassador to Berlin, Andriy Melnyk, commented this week that Kyiv needed vessels to defend its the Black Sea and Sea of Azov coasts in the result of a Russian invasion.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has said any action from Russia against Ukraine would result in a "swift, severe and united response" from Washington D.C. and its allies.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated the White House's stance during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva, Switzerland, on Friday.

He called the meeting a "candid exchange of ideas" and said the U.S. was prepared to continue diplomatic discussions with Russia in the weeks ahead.

Russia has denied any intention to invade Ukraine and said it hopes the U.S. will address its security concerns.

Earlier this month, Newsweek reported Lavrov said of the military build-up: "We aren't threatening anyone, but we are hearing threats to us. We will decide how to react depending on what specific steps our partners will take."

Vladimir Putin and Kay-Achim Schoenbach
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) speaks during his annual press conference at the Moscow Manege, on December 23, 2021, in Moscow. German navy's rear Admiral Kay-Achim Schoenbach (R) during a visit to German peacekeepers at the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on December 18, 2019, at Camp Castle in the Port of Limassol, Cyprus. Schoenbach resgined from his position on Saturday. Getty