“Echoes of 1968” – Czech politicians denounce Russian aggression against Ukraine

An Ukrainian serviceman points to the direction of the incoming shelling next to a building which was hit by a large caliber mortar shell in the frontline village of Krymske, Luhansk region, Ukraine, Feb. 19, 2022

President Putin’s decision to recognize the independence of the breakaway Ukrainian republics of Donetsk and Luhansk and station troops in Donbas under the guise of protecting Russian citizens there has raised hackles in the Czech Republic, bringing back memories of the Russian-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, also undertaken under the scenario of “brotherly assistance” from Russia.  

Czech politicians were quick to denounce the aggression against Ukraine on Monday night accusing Russia of breaking international law, the Minsk Agreements and violating the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine. Prime Minister Petr Fiala said the Czech Republic was standing firmly behind Ukraine in this crisis. Speaking to the Chamber of Deputies on Tuesday morning Mr. Fiala said the international community must stand united against this latest aggression from Russia.

“We cannot close our eyes to what is happening. Europe is a step away from war. Russia’s recognition of the breakaway republics and its military presence in Donbas is an act of aggression against a sovereign state in breach of international law. President Putin’s address on Monday night clearly showed his ambitions and his intentions. This aggression is not the first and will not be the last. We saw it 14 years ago in Georgia and 8 years ago in Crimea. It would be naïve to think that Putin’s efforts to restore the influence of the former Soviet Union will stop in eastern Ukraine.”

Jan Lipavský | Photo: Office of Czech Government

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský told reporters that the Czech Republic was ready to support whatever sanctions the EU agreed on. The Czech foreign minister announced earlier that the ministry was sending humanitarian aid worth 10 million crowns to Ukraine, and now added that the government was ready to step up aid to the country depending on its immediate needs.

The reaction to the Russian scenario in Ukraine has been particularly strong in the Czech Republic, evoking reminiscences of the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia, also undertaken under the scenario of “brotherly assistance” from Russia and the need to protect the “socialist order”.

Defense Minister Jana Černochová called Russia's recognition of the separatist republics in eastern Ukraine an effort to "restore the Soviet Union at the expense of free and sovereign countries." The civilized world must never tolerate that; it is not just Ukraine on Putin's chessboard, we are there as well,” the defense minister tweeted.

The Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Markéta Pekarová Adamová wrote on Twitter that if the Czech Republic were not a member of NATO, it would be similarly threatened as Ukraine. “It is our duty to stand by Ukraine in this” she said.

The opposition ANO party and the Freedom and Direct Democracy party have likewise denounced Russia’s aggression.

And, President Miloš Zeman, whose pro-Russian stand is widely known and who recently dismissed the possibility of Russia invading Ukraine, broke several days of silence on the Ukrainian crisis on Tuesday morning to say –via his spokesman - that the presence of Russian troops in Donbas increased the risk of a military conflict and decreased hopes of a diplomatic solution.