In Ukraine, outrage is still great: on Friday, the head of the German Navy, Kay-Achim Schönbach, caused international irritation with statements about the Russia-Ukraine conflict. A little later he had to vacate his post. Specifically, Schönbach had said that it was „nonsense“ that Vladimir Putin seriously wanted to wage war in Ukraine. He also expressed understanding for Vladimir Putin. What he really wants and probably deserves is „respect at eye level“. In addition, Schönbach claimed“The Crimean peninsula is gone, it will not come back, that’s a fact.“ This triggered a storm of indignation in Ukraine. The Ukrainian ambassador in Germany, Andriy Melnyk, told the „Welt“: Even after Schönbach’s resignation, the scandal left „a pile of fragments“ in its wake and „massively questioned Germany’s international credibility and reliability – not only from the Ukrainian point of view.“ Schönbach’s statements were a symptom of „German arrogance and megalomania“. But not everyone sees it that way. The ex-General Inspector of the Bundeswehr, Harald Kujat, for example, defends Schönbach: Schönbach basically reproduced the American position – and thus that of Germany’s „closest ally“. Is Kujat right? Or is the outcry about Kay-Achim Schönbach justified?Some different voices:
Pro 1: Schönbach caused a foreign policy damage Nordeutscher Rundfunk (North Gemeran Broadcasting Station) NDR editor Kai Küstner severely criticizes the German ex-navy chief Kay-Achim Schönbach for the statements he made. “What the Russian President has been working on for years, a German navy admiral managed to do in just a few sentences,” Küstner scoffs. Namely to split the EU and its allies. That brings German politics a „foreign policy total mess“ With Ukriane one of Germany’s important foreign policy partners is rightly annoyed: „Schönbach’s statements can best be described as verbal fling,“ criticizes Küstner. “For example, there is no other way to describe the statement that Schönbach, as a radical Roman Catholic Christian, would like to have Christian Russia as a partner in the fight against China. The big problem: in his Bundeswehr uniform, Schönbach was clearly recognizable as a representative of the German Bundeswehr. Schönbach also downplayed the danger posed by Russia and at the same time undermined the line of German foreign policy as deeply as possible. „The high-ranking German military representative does not seem to have given any thought to how his statements would go down with the Eastern European allies,“ Küstner complains. That scratches the credibility of German foreign policy – even if Schönbach has resigned.
Contra 1: In terms of content, nothing about Schönbach’s statements is wrong Harald Kujat, former Inspector General of the German Armed Forces
The former inspector general of the Bundeswehr, Harald Kujat, defends ex-navy chief Kay-Achim Schönbach on RBB Inforadio. In an interview with the journalist Sabine Dahl, Kujat says: „One can argue about how Schönbach formulated his statements, but in essence it is about what he said.“ And what Schönbach said in terms of content was not wrong. Russia annexed Crimea in violation of international law. The federal government cannot and does not want to accept that. But the question that now has to be asked is: „How is Crimea supposed to get back to Ukraine?“ That would only be possible through a war with Russia, says Kujat. There is no other possibility. With the statement that the Crimea was lost for the Ukraine, Admiral Schönbach did not mean to express anything else. Schönbach also called for negotiations to be held on an equal footing with Russia. That is also the position of the USA, which is incidentally Germany’s „most important ally.The aim must be that Russia does not continue to ally itself with China. Here, too, Schönbach’s statements were factually correct.
„If I were still in office, I would have stood in front of Admiral Schönbach and I would have tried to prevent his dismissal – by all means,“ said former Bundeswehr Inspector General Harald Kujat to tagesschau24 and contradicted the handling of the case . According to him, allegations of misconduct against Schönbach are not true. „He would have committed a disciplinary offense if he had violated the Soldiers‘ Act and seriously damaged the reputation of the Bundeswehr or the respect and trust that his official position requires,“ emphasized Kujat, despite Schönbach’s statements, which were considered to belittle the Russian aggression. According to the ex-inspector general, criticism of Schönbach’s formulations is justified, especially in a „heated situation“, but the former ex-navy chief merely reflected on the US position and thus that of Germany’s „closest ally“. In connection with this, Kujat sees no problem with Schönbach’s words about Putin not wanting to attack Ukraine, but only striving for „respect at eye level“. Here, too, the Vice Admiral described what the USA is currently doing.
Harald Kujat also commented on the recent tensions with Russia over Ukraine. Looking at the situation, he expressed his hope for de-escalation. „It must be in our interest to come to a reasonable conclusion, to de-escalate and also to come to a détente with Russia, and of course always taking into account the security interests of Ukraine,“ said the former inspector general. This is „completely clear“. Instead of always talking about war, we have to talk about „how a war can be prevented“. „Does anyone really want that,“ he asked of a possible war between Ukraine and Russia over control of Crimea. After all, according to Kujat, even US President Joe Biden ruled out military means. In his statements, the former chief of the navy, Schönbach, said, among other things, that the Crimean peninsula was gone and would not come back – much to the shock of Ukraine.
While Harald Kujat defended the former chief of the navy, Kay-Achim Schönbach, the CDU politician and former member of the Bundestag, Ruprecht Polenz, intervened with a small, but possibly crucial, tip about the former inspector general of the Bundeswehr. „Kujat is a member of the supervisory board of the Yakunin Institute, a Kremlin propaganda facility in Berlin,“ commented the former chairman of the Bundestag’s Foreign Affairs Committee on Twitter. But what is behind the organization for “Dialogue of Civilizations” known as the Yakunin Institute? Specifically, it is a think tank founded by former Russian railway chief and close confidant of Putin, Vladimir Yakunin. According to the spokeswoman for DW in 2018, the institute is mainly financed by Yakunin himself and the Armenian-Russian businessman and philanthropist Ruben Vardanian. Yakunin was also a former adviser to Putin and wrote down his memoirs and views in his book The Treacherous Path” . The Dialogue of Civilization in which, alongside the former Primakov advisor Dr. Kulikov also Dr. Alexander Rahr, co-signatory of the new appeal “ For a new security policy for the sake of peace”, were members was perceived by Putin critics as a Kremlin propaganda tool.
Pro 2: People like Schönbach are a threat to security policy taz TAZ foreign department head Dominic Johnson criticizes ex-Admiral Schönbach for his statements regarding the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Johnson, however, considers Schönbach only a symptom of a much larger and structural problem: A “void” has opened up in foreign and security policy because no well-known German politicians would take a position on foreign and security policy issues. „For some time now, numerous nostalgics have been crowding into this foreign-policy void in Germany, alternately blustering about the good old days of the Soviet Union and Ostpolitik and about defending the Christian West,“ criticizes Johnson. This includes the danger that Germany will present itself to the outside world as an “insecure, dishonest, self-centered clerk who cannot be relied on, who does not show solidarity and who is not even capable of convincingly presenting his own interests and values”. The fact that Schönbach snubbed Ukraine with his „holy“ statements about Putin and Crimea was unacceptable. The ex-admiral had rightly resigned for this. However, according to Johnson, German politics is now also obliged to define a “coherent” foreign policy. Otherwise the next Schönbach case would already be in the starting blocks
Contra 2: The outrage over Schönbach’s statements is exaggerated New Nordhäuser newspaper/ Neue Nordhäuser Zeitung NNZ editor Kurt Frank thinks the indignation surrounding the chief of the Navy, Kay-Achim Schönbach, is exaggerated. In the Neue Nordhäuser Zeitzung, Frank criticized: In view of the massive criticism that Schönbach had to get for his statements, one had to ask oneself how things are with freedom of expression in Germany. From his point of view, Schönbach’s statements were neither completely absurd nor exaggerated . In terms of content, Schönbach mainly made it clear that he did not assume that Putin wanted to start a war and that it was hardly realistic to reconquer Crimea from Russia. Frank claims that Schönbach has now had to resign because he is representing a minority position: Because he does not portray Putin as a warmonger. Frank does not seem surprised that Schönbach has to give up his post because of this. But disappointing: „Contradiction has become abnormal, its protagonists have to be sorted out,“ says Frank. Schönbach felt this zeitgeist. He is the victim of an increasingly intolerant climate of public opinion.