Czech minister visits Ukraine to support government, see situation on ground

The Czech minister of foreign affairs has started a two-day visit to Ukraine intended to show support for the Kyiv government in the face of strong Russian pressure. Jan Lipavský and his Slovak and Austrian counterparts are also travelling to the Donbas region.   

Jan Lipavský  (second from the left),  Alexander Schallenberg  (second from the right) and Ivan Korčok  (right) | Photo: Adam Blažej,  ČTK

The Czech foreign minister, Jan Lipavský, has begun a trip to Ukraine with his Slovak and Austrian counterparts, Ivan Korčok and Alexander Schallenberg.

The two-day visit is aimed at expressing support for the Kyiv government and Ukraine’s right to territorial sovereignty.

It has recently come under major pressure from Russia, amid fears that President Vladimir Putin may order an invasion.

Photo: Efrem Lukatsky,  ČTK/AP Photo

Among the delegation's destinations is the line of contact in the eastern region of Donbas. It divides Ukrainian troops from Moscow-backed separatists, who seized territory nearly eight years ago.

Czech foreign policy chief Lipavský said he and the other ministers wished to see on the ground a country on whose borders a foreign army was gathering.

“The line of contact remains sovereign Ukrainian territory. Since 2014, 14,000 people have died there. Conflict is going on at various levels of intensity. Naturally it is appropriate to express solidarity with Ukraine and to support it – so that more people do not die.”

Miloš Zeman | Photo: Ondřej Deml,  ČTK

The day before Mr. Lipavský’s departure for Ukraine, the Czech president played down speculation that Russia would again invade the country.

Miloš Zeman told CNN Prima News that what was taking place was in fact sabre rattling.

“The Russians aren’t lunatics. The only net profit for them in an attack on Ukraine is that they would give Ukraine a kind of warning, a military warning. But it would also mean far greater losses, in the form of various sanctions. If you compare profit and loss – because they aren’t unintelligent – then they can see would lose out, markedly.”

Dmytro Kuleba | Photo: Eduard Kryjanovsky,  Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED

Mr. Zeman, who enjoys warm relations with the Kremlin, also said the Czech government should not have donated but sold 4,000 artillery shells to Ukraine.

Soon after Mr. Zeman’s statements, Ukraine’s minister of foreign affairs, Dmytro Kuleba, accused the Czech head of state of vainly –and not for the first time – trying to undermine mutual relations.

Mr. Kubela said his Czech counterpart, by contrast, represented a responsible government that understood the dangers of Russian aggression toward Ukraine for the Czech Republic and the whole of Europe.

For his part, Minister Lipavský said his government’s approach had solid foundations.

Illustrative photo: Nicolas Raymond,  Flickr,  CC BY 2.0

“The Czech government works with information that it has from its security services. The Czech government works with information it receives within international exchanges with NATO. It handles such information very responsibly. So do individual parts of the state: the State Security Council, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

As well as holding talks with Mr. Kuleba, Mr. Lipavský and the rest of the international delegation are due to meet the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in Kyiv on Tuesday.