Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schoenbach should count himself lucky. Under the Kaiser, never mind Hitler, his indiscretion would have merited court-martial. In today’s Germany, he merely had to tender his resignation.
The secret he revealed so blithely is that Germany, nominally a NATO member and technically a Western country, does Putin’s bidding with unwavering loyalty. However, for PR reasons, this Katze is supposed to stay in the bag.
Publicly, German officials are supposed to proclaim their nation is a NATO member not just nominally, and a Western country not just technically. Having thus paid lip service to the Western alliance, they can then – and only then – proceed to serve Putin in his confrontation with the West.
For example, Germany not only refuses to supply armaments to the Ukraine, but is doing her level best to block other countries’ airlift there.
Yet there was the good admiral, speaking out of turn at a streamed conference in India. The sea wolf saw fit to deliver himself of insights into German foreign policy that were way outside his naval remit.
“The Crimean peninsula,” he said, “is gone never to return, that’s a fact.” And Putin’s aggression against the Ukraine has become a fact only because he doesn’t get enough respect from the West.
The admiral even co-opted the deity to make his case. “Mein Gott,” he said, “giving someone respect costs very little, even nothing… It’s so easy to give him the respect he demands – and probably also deserves.”
One has to wonder what Putin has done to deserve respect. Having those he dislikes murdered all over the world, not just in Russia?
Recently two such individuals got “whacked” in Germany, on top of the dozens murdered in Britain and elsewhere, some with nuclear and chemical weapons, some with exotic poisons, some with bullets, some with garrottes, some by defenestration, some by air crashes.
Or perhaps Putin merits respect for the kleptofascist state he created by merging the secret police with organised crime? The number of political prisoners in Putin’s Russia tops by an order of magnitude that in Brezhnev’s USSR – is that cause for respect?
Or is it creating a coterie of money-laundering billionaire acolytes, all with either KGB or Mafia background, while presiding over a pauperised population? Waging non-stop hybrid war against the West, with a propaganda arm whipping up a hateful hysteria easily outdoing anything heard in what Ronald Reagan so aptly called an “evil empire”?
And whatever gave Schoenbach the idea that Putin hasn’t been getting what Vito Corleone called rispetto?
Western leaders have been photographed doing foreplay with him; President Trump consistently called him a “great man”; Western credits and technology have been flowing to Russia in a steady stream; whenever Putin pounced on Russia’s neighbours, the West responded with token sanctions; until recently Putin’s mug was seen at numerous summit meetings and international conferences; Putin’s (and his acolytes’) purloined billions are securely parked in the West; one of Germany’s ex-chancellors sits on the boards of Russian oil and gas monopolies (Putin’s wholesale purchase of Western dignitaries is therefore called Schröderisation); prominent British politicians hobnob with Putin’s shadiest ‘oligarchs’ .
How much more respect does he deserve? Well, you see what Schoenbach means is that anything short of abject surrender constitutes disrespect. The West, he believes, should show Putin respect by accepting his gangster ultimatum, leaving Eastern Europe at his mercy.
That view is consonant with the policy pursued by German officials – but at odds with their public pronouncements. Now, I have no inside knowledge of German politics, but here are the comments by the man who does. This is what the German journalist Boris Reitschuster had to say a few months ago:
“One of Merkel’s greatest successes is that she pretends to be Putin’s opponent while being in fact his closest ally. They are alike, and that’s no accident. They were both politicised within professional communist organisations.
“When Putin has problems, he can always rely on Merkel: it was she who stopped the Ukraine and Georgia from joining NATO. That prevented arms supplies to the Ukraine after Putin’s  invasion. She is pushing through Putin’s most important project: the North Sea pipeline. Merkel’s words and deeds – and not only in relation to Russia – are diametrically opposite… Western people who have no relevant experience are usually unable to understand this. Merkel is Putin’s best woman. Mainly because she conceals this so adroitly.”
Neither Merkel nor her party is in power any longer, but Germany’s Ostpolitik hasn’t changed. Her new government is fighting tooth and nail to stop really severe sanctions in their tracks should Putin expand his aggression against the Ukraine.
Germany refuses to present a united Western front to Putin’s international banditry, which, considering her status within both NATO and the EU, effectively encourages yet another invasion. The entire system of collective security is under threat as a result, but that’s a minor consideration for German politicians. Especially when lucrative sinecures with Gazprom and Rosneft beckon.
I’m not privy to the conversations German politicians have off the record. But Admiral Schoenbach no doubt was. That’s why he must be genuinely perplexed.
He merely vented publicly what he knows is the official, if tacit, policy of his government. The poor seaman doesn’t seem to grasp the seminal difference between public and tacit.
“For nothing is secret that shall not be made manifest,” said Jesus Christ, but he wasn’t commenting on Germany’s foreign policy. In that domain, making manifest that which is secret is a sacking offence. At best.