Czech diplomacy stands up for Georgia in conflict with Russia

For weeks now, tensions between the Russian Federation and Georgia have been rising. After four Russian citizens were charged with spying in Georgia earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin turned up the pressure, imposing sanctions against the southern neighbour. Public transport as well as the postal service between the two states has been stopped, and Georgians can not longer get visas or work permits for the Russian Federation. In the two weeks since the sanctions were imposed, Russia has deported 700 Georgians and closed dozens of restaurants and businesses owned by Georgians.

Earlier this week, the Czech mission in Brussels finally pushed the issue onto the EU agenda, and now the EU-25 has expressed official disapproval of Russia's blockade against Georgia. Zuzana Opletalova, spokesperson for the Czech Foreign Ministry, explains the background to this week's developments in Brussels, and the Czech Republic's position on the question of Russia's policies towards Georgia:

"The reason that we decided to include the issue of Georgia in the agenda of Tuesday's meeting [in Brussels] is that Georgia is one of the strategic partners of the European Union, and a part of Euro-Atlantic relations. The Czech Republic appreciates the achieved agreement on the adduction of the formal conclusions that expressed concern about the development of the situation. The EU just asked Russia to lighten up its approach, especially regarding the economic blockade, and towards Georgian citizens living in Russia. But this doesn't mean that we do not care about good relations with Russia. Between equivalent partners—which the EU and Russia are—it is common to express opinions, even when they are not exactly the same. We are confident that all the concerned sides are looking for a peaceful resolution."

You have just spoken about equivalent partners, or rather states of equal weight in the diplomatic world. But the initiative here to exert pressure from the European Union on Russia first came from the Czech Republic's mission in Brussels. According to earlier reports, the EU wasn't at all keen to make this an issue with Russia. So why did the Czech Republic decide to push this agenda in Brussels?

"The only thing that we intended by including the Georgian issue in the agenda was that we wanted to support a peaceful resolution to the frozen conflicts on Georgian territory, that's all."

What was the reaction from the other member states of the EU? Was there resistance when this issue was tabled by the Czech mission in Brussels?

"I don't think that there were wide conflicts. You have 25 members and their opinions could differ a little bit. But we are satisfied that one conclusion was accepted, which expressed concern, and that's important."

Let me ask about Friday's planned EU summit in Finland, which will focus on energy issues, and President Vladimir Putin is expected to attend that meeting. Do the European Union delegates have any special message planned for the Russian President on that occasion?

"We do not expect that the issue of Georgia will be discussed tomorrow [Friday], and we do not intend to open a wider discussion about it at the meeting."