Czech ambassador to the US: The help we provided to Ukraine made the Czech Republic grow in the eyes of our coalition partners

When Miloslav Stašek took up his post as Czechia’s ambassador to the United States at the end of 2022 he hit the ground running. His daily work agenda includes collaborating closely with the US government to create robust support packages for Ukraine, helping Czech firms find a foothold on the US market, seeking new opportunities for bilateral cooperation in science and technology and supporting Americans with Czech heritage. I spoke to him about the challenges this involves.

How has the war in Ukraine impacted trans-Atlantic ties between Czechia and the US in particular?

Miloslav Stašek | Photo: Czech Foreign Ministry

“The impact has been imminent, the Russian aggression to Ukraine strengthened the relations between European countries but also between the EU and the United States, and also had a huge impact on the relationship between Czechia and the United States. The Czech Republic was the first country to offer support to Ukrainians, and the first one to provide heavy equipment to the Ukrainian army as well.

“The help we provided to Ukrainian immigrants made the Czech Republic really grow in the eyes of our coalition partners. I would also like to add that the conflict in Ukraine also brought the attention of the US back to Central Europe. Before they were very focussed on global issues like in the Indo-pacific, competing with China and dealing with Taiwan. But we never expected we could face another war in Central Europe.”

Is Czechia perceived as a reliable NATO ally in Washington and has the country’s strong support for Ukraine shown this in a new way?

The summit was an exceptional opportunity to discuss with US President Biden,  February 22,  2023. | Photo: Office of Czech Government

“It has had a great impact on my work as Ambassador of the Czech Republic to the US, and the view of the Czech Republic is really on the rise in the US. This is also true about the US administration and the Congress. After the midterm elections there was a shift in power, the Republican Party now has the House and the Democrats have a majority in the Senate. For the administration it’s complicated because budgets and finances are controlled by the House, so all packages that they want to provide to the Ukraine need to be fought for more amongst the Republican Party.

“I must say that President Biden and his administration is very focussed on support for Ukraine – they are the main leader in support for Ukraine, and we are also trying as the EU and Czech Republic to do our best to provide for the Ukraine.”

How have you seen your role pivot since the war broke out, is there more of a focus on elements that weren’t present before the war in Ukraine?

Illustrative photo: JamesQube,  Pixabay,  Pixabay License

“Of course we have a very extensive exchange of information – we coordinate the technology Ukraine needs, this is something completely new with the US. We’ve also started debating where we would like to see Ukraine in the future, we want to secure their security in the future. But also the reconstruction of Ukraine – we need to deal with the financial institutions; the European Bank, development banks, the World Bank as well.

“These are the institutions we are approaching and are trying to convince to allocate the funds, and bring some US companies who are interested in the reconstruction of Ukraine and bring them together with Czech companies and create some platform to work in tri-lateral collaboration between the US, Czech Republic and Ukraine on the reconstruction. We are still in the preparation phase of this as the conflict is ongoing and we do not know when it will end, but we should be prepared for this. A new platform has been created for B9 countries and the US, and it’s a new platform where the US is dealing with Central European countries and there is also a debate on how we can contribute to stabilizing Ukraine and helping them after the conflict as well.”

When it comes to the conversations around Ukraine joining NATO, how active is Czechia in those conversations in Washington?

“We are very active, you know it from the position of our leaders – we strongly support Ukraine’s future membership in NATO and the EU, but of course it’s a process. When the Czech Republic applied to join the EU, it was 1994, and when we became a full-fledged member it was 2004, so it took us ten years. Of course we had a different starting point than Ukraine is having at the moment.

Illustrative photo: Wilfried Pohnke,  Pixabay,  Pixabay License

“But I think the last summit of NATO in Vilnius sent a very strong political signal to Ukraine that we are ready to have them in NATO, but there must be a process of reforms, because it is impossible to bring someone on board without preparation of legislation, economy, and security. So the process has started, it will take some time, and it will probably be materialized when the conflict is over.”

You mentioned that the US and Czechia are in fairly good standing right now, but what is the present level of bilateral relations between the countries?

“The relations between the Czech Republic and the United States are on the highest level in their history.”

“It was mentioned by our prime minister in his speech, the relations between the Czech Republic and the United States are on the highest level in their history. This is partly due to the Ukraine conflict and also that we have a government that is very pro-Western, the government is focussing on its relationship with the US as their main ally and main partner with regard to security in Europe as well. But also the fact that Brexit took place, and the US lost their main partner in the European Union, so they are now in the process of searching for new partners in the EU. Right now, the Czech Republic and Poland are the main partner of the US in Central Europe.”

How do you see that partnership developing in the future?

“We are opening completely new areas of collaboration. Of course defence is one thing as the conflict in Ukraine has reformed our military forces – this is not the case only in the Czech Republic but across all Central European countries. We are negotiating new contracts, we have Bell Helicopters, Venom Vipers, and we are in the final stages of negotiating F-35 purchases, and some new technologies for our army. So the United States has become a key strategy partner in terms of military collaboration.

Illustrative photo: archive of EPH

“On the other hand, there are side-effects of the Ukrainian conflict, like the energy crisis in Europe. We completely cut off the flow of gas from Russia due to the fact that our government was able to reach an agreement with the Dutch government. We started importing from Texas and Louisiana, the US covers almost 1/3 of our gas capacity. We are also negotiating collaboration in nuclear energy which can have the potential to replace coal based power stations in the Czech Republic. But we are also opening new areas of collaboration like space. In the autumn I will be having a big mission that will focus on collaboration in space research, which is a completely new sphere we are penetrating.

“The field of science and technology is vital to our future – if we want to stay competitive we need to invest into education in science and technology.”

“The field of science and technology is vital to our future – if we want to stay competitive we need to invest into education in science and technology. We are also focussing on topics like artificial intelligence, cyber security, and biotechnology. These are the areas we are moving towards, and we are also approaching specific universities that are renowned for certain topics and trying to establish collaboration with Czech universities, building a bridge between Czech universities and US ones.

“We would like to see more students from the Czech Republic studying in the US, and more American students studying in Czechia.”

“On one side with the field of research and science, but on the other side we would like to see more students from the Czech Republic studying in the US, and more American students studying in Czechia. At the moment we are receiving annually around 450 students from the US who are mainly studying medicine, IT, and engineering.”

I want to talk about business a little bit, the US is Czechia’s biggest export destination outside of Europe and the country has long been trying to diversify its exports. What’s the potential on the US market and how are you helping Czech firms tap into this?

“Last year we had a record trade exchange – 12.2 billion US dollars, the annual trade exchange with the US is growing annually by 1.6 billion US dollars.”

“Together with security collaboration, economic collaboration is on the same level with the US. Last year we had a record trade exchange – 12.2 billion US dollars, the annual trade exchange with the US is growing annually by 1.6 billion US dollars. If we succeed with the big military collaborations, energy, and automotive industries, we will see really big growth in the trade exchange between the two countries. What is also changing is investment, this year we’ve reached a new level of Czech investment in the US - we have 100 companies who have created employment opportunities for American people, and the number of Czech companies which are active and standing in the US is growing every year, and the same goes for American companies in Czechia.

“Economic exchange is very much alive between the two countries. We also want to be sure that we aren’t only focussing on Washington, DC because the US is a huge country. We are trying to develop relationships with particular states in the US, in the first year of my posting I’ve already visited 30 states with different business missions. We are also working on the enlargement of American consulates which is very important for us. We have an embassy in Washington, a Consulate General in New York, Chicago and LA, but in other states we are trying to bring the American Consulate on board to be active in the business activities of the Czech Republic and with Czech companies, to help them with local knowledge and contacts and set them up for success in these areas.

“According to the last census from 2020, there are 1.3 million people with Czech roots, and there are 300,000 people with Czech citizenship. The community is very active, and they are still keeping up their traditions.”

“In the last point of economic collaboration – we are trying to work very closely with the Czech community in the US, which is the biggest abroad. According to the last census from 2020, there are 1.3 million people with Czech roots, and there are 300,000 people with Czech citizenship. The community is very active, and they are still keeping up their traditions – it’s amazing and wherever I go we try to meet them and support them. We also want to bring them into our business activities because so many of them are lawyers and bankers – very influential people which could be a benefit to Czech companies as well.”

The situation in the States is fairly stable right now in terms of political leadership with Biden, but there is an election around the corner. Is there any concern over a potential Trump re-election in 2024, and how would the Czech Republic work to keep diplomatic relations strong regardless of US leadership?

Donald Trump a Joe Biden | Photo: Gage Skidmore  (collage Emma Kaden),  Flickr,  CC BY-SA 2.0

“We are diplomats, and that means we work with Republicans and Democrats. The only concern which we are having in the case that Trump would win the presidential elections and return to office is that there would be a limitation on the support to Ukraine. Their focus would clearly be on the Indo-pacific and China. We are also receiving signals from the Congress from some pockets in the Republican Party who are pushing President Biden and his administration to invest money towards the protection of the South Border with Mexico as they are facing a big flow of immigrants from Latin America.

“But we are trying to speak to these members of Congress to educate them on the situation and explain our feeling as a state that is on the borders of the conflict. We are trying to not only help Ukrainians, but also to influence the point of view which part of the Republican Party has.”

If you can think of something that you miss about Czechia while living abroad in Washington, what would it be? Any sports or teams you’re now supporting?

“With sports I am settled because I go to the gym regularly which I was used to in Czechia. But of course the food is different. I love the steaks in the US, but of course there are times when we miss classic Czech cuisine. But this is the reality, usually wherever we go we try to learn from the local culture and cuisines, we try to cook traditional meals from those countries in our house.

Illustrative photo: Tomáš Adamec,  Czech Radio

“But what I really miss and what we are working on as well is interconnectivity between the US and Czech Republic. We have only one season direct flights from New York to Prague, but we are negotiating with Delta Airlines and United to operate the whole year from two destinations in the US, it would be a huge boom for tourism. In the field of tourism, Americans are the most important tourists who are visiting Czechia because there is a huge decline in tourists from Russia because of the conflict, and also China. There is a big increase in tourists from the US, and receiving more tourists from the US will also probably bring some business. So we see these things as interconnected.”