“An act of barbaric aggression”, Czech leaders condemn Russian invasion of Ukraine, prepare response

Russian invasion of Ukraine

Czech top officials have joined widespread international condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  The Czech government’s call for much tougher sanctions against Russia, was echoed by President Miloš Zeman who described Putin’s military operation as “a crime against peace” saying the Russian leader must be stopped.

“In these dark times let me express my deepest solidarity and support…We stand with Ukraine and [her] people.”

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala gave a short, immediate statement on Thursday ahead of a special Security Council meeting in reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in the morning hours.

Photo: Evgeniy Maloletka,  ČTK/AP

“Europe has found itself in a situation that many were not even able to imagine until recently - an unprovoked act of Russian aggression. A military invasion by Russian forces into the territory of Ukraine cannot be described otherwise as an act of aggression against a sovereign state. I clearly condemn the steps taken by Russian President Vladimir Putin. They must be met with an answer.”

The sentiments were echoed by other cabinet ministers. Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský called Russia’s invasion a “barbaric act of aggression”. Defence Minister Jana Černochová called for the “hardest possible reaction” to this “unprecedented attack on sovereign territory”.

Even Czech President Miloš Zeman, who just a week ago called Western warnings of Russia planning an attack on Ukraine “an embarrassment for the CIA” and said that “the Russian’s aren’t mad”, accused Russia of committing “a crime against peace”.

Miloš Zeman | Photo: Office of the President

“Several days ago I said that the Russians aren’t mad and that they will not attack Ukraine. I admit I was wrong. The irrational decision made by the leadership of the Russian Federation will result in severe damage to the Russian state itself.

“I believe that now is the time to resort to much tougher sanctions than those which were originally planned. By this I mean primarily cutting off Russia from the SWIFT international financial transfer system.”

At a press briefing in Prague on Thursday morning, Ukraine’s Ambassador to the Czech Republic Yevhen Perebiinis appealed for immediate action by the wider international community.

“Words of support and expressions of solidarity are no longer enough. This is no longer just about Ukraine but about the whole world. The world changed tonight. We insist that the whole world should undertake actions that will stop Russia’s aggression and save both the Ukrainian state as well as the fundamental building blocks of the democratic world and of democratic Europe.

Russian invasion of Ukraine | Photo: Emilio Morenatti,  ČTK/AP

“Immediately enforce new tough sanctions against Russia. Call on the world to help strengthen Ukraine’s defence capabilities by sending weapons and military equipment. We want destructive economic sanctions to be enacted against Russia immediately, especially, disconnecting Russia from SWIFT. The civilised world must completely isolate Russia. “

The real weight of sanctions that Europe is going to respond is expected to be announced after this evening’s special meeting of the European Council in Brussels. Prime Minister Fiala has already said that the Czech Republic will call for the toughest sanctions to be enacted in unison by EU states.

However, signs of how the situation has shifted could be seen already during the morning and afternoon government talks. Czechia’s Europe Minister, Mikuláš Bek, said that lowering the continent’s dependence on Russian oil and gas will be treated as a priority by the country during its EU presidency in the second half of 2022. Following the State Security Council meeting, the government also announced that it will be shutting down Russian consulates in the Czech regional cities of Karlovy Vary and Brno. Visa application processes for Russian citizens who are planning to stay in the Czech Republic for other than humanitarian reasons have been cancelled. The government has also approved CZK 300 million for humanitarian aid to Ukraine, of which CZK 50 million is to be sent immediately to the country.