Czech political scene divided over air strikes on Syria

Barzah Research and Development Center in Syria on April 13, 2018, top, and on April 15, bottom, following a U.S.-led allied missile attack, photo: CTK

The air strikes against military targets in Syria carried out by US, UK and France in the wake of a recent chemical attack on civilians in the Syrian city of Douma have divided the Czech political scene. While the government endorsed the attack, the president and some opposition parties denounced it as aggressive and unacceptable.

Martin Stropnický,  photo: CTK
Shortly after news of the attack broke Czech Foreign Minister Martin Stropnický and Defence Minister Karla Šlechtová called press briefings to express the Czech Republic’s support for its NATO allies. Minister Stropnický stressed that the strikes were legitimate even without having been sanctioned by the UN Security Council because the chances of such a resolution being passed were nil.

“As the Czech Republic perceives it, these strikes are a clear warning to anyone who would consider using chemical weapons against civilians that this is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. It was crucial to draw a line that must not be crossed.”

Barzah Research and Development Center in Syria on April 13,  2018,  top,  and on April 15,  bottom,  following a U.S.-led allied missile attack,  photo: CTK
Prime Minister Andrej Babiš reacted to the news on Twitter saying that the air strike had been “inevitable”. He said the strikes had been precise and effective and had fulfilled their goal. The prime minister emphasized the Czech Republic’s clear stand against the use of chemical weapons, particularly against civilians.

Foreign Minister Stropnický said the US had thanked the Czech Republic for its support in the matter. He said that in a phone conversation his US counterpart John Sullivan, the US Foreign Secretary had said the US appreciated the show of support and emphasized the importance of the fact that the Czech Republic is the only EU member state which still operates an embassy in Damascus, representing the interests of the US, among others.

However the Czech political scene was far from united on the matter of the strikes, with the Communists and Freedom and Direct Democracy Party calling it an act of aggression and the Social Democrats expressing concern that it would only escalate tensions in the region.

Douma,  photo: CTK
President Miloš Zeman entered the debate on Sunday, when in an interview for Radio Frekvence he called the strikes a “cowboy action” which would almost certainly undermine the positive development that Syrian refugees were gradually beginning to return to their homeland. He moreover criticized the prime minister’s response to the strikes as ‘short-sighted’ and reminded the Czech foreign and defence ministers that they represented the Czech Republic, not the US, UK or France.

After a meeting with the president, the prime minister toned down his earlier show of support for the strikes, saying that military action is not a solution and criticizing the fact that the strikes went ahead without being sanctioned by the UN Security Council.