Germany’s navy chief stepped down on Saturday after drawing criticism for saying Russian President Vladimir Putin deserved respect and that Kyiv would never win back annexed Crimea from Moscow.
“I have asked Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht to relieve me from my duties with immediate effect,” Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schoenbach said in a statement. “The minister has accepted my request.”
Schoenbach made the remarks to a think-tank discussion in India on Friday, and video was published on social media. The comments came at a sensitive time as Russia has amassed tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine’s borders.
Diplomatic efforts are focused on preventing an escalation. Russia denies it is planning to invade Ukraine.
In New Delhi, Schoenbach, speaking in English, said Putin seeks to be treated as an equal by the West.
Schoenbach conceded Russia’s actions in Ukraine needed to be addressed. But he added that “the Crimea peninsula is gone, it will never come back, this is a fact,” contradicting the joint Western position that Moscow’s annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 cannot be accepted and must be reversed.
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry had called on Germany to publicly reject the navy chief’s comments. Schoenbach’s comments could impair Western efforts to de-escalate the situation, Ukraine said in a statement.