Business contracts and US missile defence shield dominate agenda of President Klaus's Russian trip

Vaclav Klaus and Vladimir Putin, photo: CTK

Czech President Vaclav Klaus ended a four-day trip to the Russian Federation on Sunday - the first ever official visit to Russia by a Czech head of state. Accompanied by an unusually large delegation of businessmen, Mr Klaus's chief aim was, he said, to boost bilateral relations, with special emphasis on economy. However, the meeting between President Klaus and Russian President Vladmir Putin was to a large extent dominated by the US project to install a tracking radar in the Czech Republic.

Vaclav Klaus and Vladimir Putin, photo: CTK
"For us, for Russia, it is like the deployment of Pershing missiles. The threat is absolutely identical," said Russia's President Vladimir Putin comparing the US missile shield plan to the deployment of US Pershing-2 missiles in Western Europe in the early 1980s, which triggered a diplomatic crisis in the final years of the Cold War. He was speaking at a news conference on Friday following a meeting with Czech President Vaclav Klaus. Mr Klaus said his goal was to try and separate the issue of the US plans to station a radar base in the Czech Republic from other topics concerning Czech-Russian relations. He said he did not expect it to dominate the talks.

Vladimir Putin and Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK
"The ambition was to submit the Czech argument in favour of this radar site being stationed on our territory. As you can see from the President's answer, I failed to do that. However, I reassured him that on the Czech part, there is not the slightest ambition to direct this radar against the Russian Federation."

Miroslav Kalousek, photo: CTK
Both heads of state said, however, that this issue will not cause major harm to mutual relations. According to President Putin, Russia is prepared to invite experts from the Czech Republic, Poland and other European countries to explain its position. Also, Czech and Russian experts are expected to resume discussions about the planned radar base in a few months' time.

Important business deals were also on the agenda of President Klaus's state visit to Russia. The Czech delegation included Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek, Industry and Trade Minister Martin Riman and other officials, as well as around a hundred Czech businessmen. According to Minister Kalousek, contracts worth 45 billion crowns were signed during the trip. They include the construction of a hospital, a gas power station and heating plant in Tatarstan, as well as exports of dairy cattle and building of cattle feed and fertiliser production plants.