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German Navy's Top Officer Resigns After Pro-Russia Comments

Schönbach
Vice Adm. Schönbach, center-left, in New Delhi on the day before his comments (Bundesmarine)

Published Jan 23, 2022 2:11 PM by The Maritime Executive

As the prospects of a war in Ukraine increase, the German government has accepted the resignation of its top naval officer over comments favorable to Russia. 

At a live-streamed defense forum on Friday, top German Navy officer Vice Adm. Kay-Achim Schönbach said that the idea that Russia seeks to seize additional territory from Ukraine is "nonsense." (This contradicts the latest U.S.-UK intelligence assessment, which indicates that Russia is preparing to invade and replace Ukraine's government with a pro-Russian figurehead.)

Contradicting German and NATO policy, Schönbach added that the part of Ukraine that Russia has already annexed by force - Crimea - "is gone" and "will not come back." He went on to say that it would not be "smart" to admit Georgia to NATO, even though it meets the requirements, and that Ukraine does not qualify for membership. 

"What [Putin] really wants is respect," he said, speaking in English. "And, my God, giving someone respect is low cost, even no cost . . . Because we need Russia against China." 

Schönbach also emphasized his beliefs as a "radical Roman Catholic" and the desirability of having a positive relationship with a large "Christian country" like Russia, even if it is not a democracy. 

His comments directly contradicted NATO policy, and immediately after the news broke, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry summoned Germany's ambassador to express its outrage. "Ukraine is grateful to Germany for its support since 2014, as well as for its diplomatic efforts to resolve the Russian-Ukrainian armed conflict. But Germany's current statements are disappointing and run counter to this support and effort," said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in a statement. 

Though Schönbach attempted to walk back his comments, his resignation was announced within 24 hours. German outlet Bild reports that he has already been replaced by his second in command, Rear Admiral Jan Christian Kaack. 

NATO naval forces assemble in Mediterranean

On Friday, the Pentagon announced that NATO members would be holding a series of major drills in the Mediterranean, which happen to coincide with Russian naval movements. 

The carrier USS Harry S. Truman is already in the Mediterranean, accompanied by USS Jason Dunham, Gravely, Ross, Roosevelt, Cole and Bainbridge. The U.S. Navy also disclosed the location of one of its four specially-adapted Ohio-class SSGNs, USS Georgia, with photographs showing her at Limassol. This stealthy, capable strike platform usually remains hidden except in tense geopolitical situations

The French carrier Charles de Gaulle - the only nuclear-powered, catapult-launch carrier operated by another navy - will also get under way soon for the Mediterranean, accompanied by nine escort vessels and two submarines.