Czech - Russian relations in spotlight as President Putin arrives in Prague

Russian President Vladimir Putin, photo: CTK

Russian President Vladimir Putin began a 2-day state visit to the Czech Republic on Wednesday—the first official visit to this country by a Russian head-of-state since President Yeltsin came 13 years ago. Relations between the two countries have not always been warm during the last decade: Moscow did not react positively when the Czech Republic joined NATO in 1999, and during the 1990s the Czech Republic expressed sympathy for the Chechen cause—another point of annoyance for the Russian Federation. Now, as Presidents Vladimir Putin and Vaclav Klaus are meeting in Prague, we take a look at the current state of Czech - Russian relations.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, photo: CTK
The state visit of President Vladimir Putin to the Czech Republic was agreed upon a year ago in Auschwitz, Poland to mark the 60th anniversary on the end of World War Two. Now, as President Putin arrives in Prague, Jiri Pehe, a leading political analyst, gives his opinion on the state of Czech - Russian relations:

"The Czech Republic's relations with Russia are quite good at this point. We know that the outstanding debts have been basically paid by now, although it was done in a way that was not entirely clear, with the help of a company called Falkon Capital, but in the end it seems that this is settled. This was the most important outstanding issue in Czech—Russian relations. As far as security concerns, I think that most Czechs do not fear Russia any more. I also think that the new government and the current president are not as forceful as the previous government and the previous president in pushing some human rights concerns with Russia, especially with regard to Chechnya. So overall I think that Putin's visit to the Czech Republic will be quite non-controversial, and it will probably just be recapitulation of where Russia and the Czech Republic stand right now in their mutual relations."

On the Czech political scene, Senator Jaromir Stetina has taken a strong stance in reaction to President Putin's scheduled visit of both houses of parliament. I asked Senator Stetina why he has decided to boycott Putin's visit to the Czech Senate?

"I can not stay under the same roof with the KGB officer who bears the political responsibility for the genocide of the Chechen nation, and for suppressing freedom of speech and democracy in Russia."

If this is the case, how do you feel about maintaining good diplomatic relations between the Czech Republic and Russia?

"I consider maintaining good relations between the Russian Federation and the Czech Republic as a natural thing that is necessary for both sides. In the European sphere, cooperation between states is the norm and it should be cherished. However, one must tell one's friends the truth. Russia is currently undergoing a difficult and long transformation and needs to reflect foreign opinions. History has shown that shutting itself off from the world has not been of benefit to Russia."

So accordingly, how should Czech politicians react to President Putin's visit?

"I think that during President Putin's visit the sound of critical words should be heard from the Czech side. At the very least something like what was heard from the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, during her visit to Russia in January, when she spoke out about human rights abuses in Chechnya and the new controversial law restricting the activities of foreign human rights organizations in Russia."