How will US-Russian nuclear deal affect Czech security?

Barack Obama, photo: CTK

US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev are set to sign a landmark nuclear arms control treaty in the Czech capital on Thursday. But some Czechs are concerned that Barack Obama’s effort to engage Russia could undermine the security of their own country. Radio Prague spoke to Daniel Anýž, a foreign policy commentator for a leading Czech daily, Hospodářské noviny, and asked him whether he thought these concerns were justified.

“When we joined NATO and the EU, we used to say we were anchored in the West; that were anchored in the western structures and security organizations like NATO itself. But then, after many years of our membership, we suddenly raised the issue here in the Czech Republic of where we belong – do we belong to Russia, or to the United States?

Barack Obama,  photo: CTK
“I really think the whole concept of nuclear non-proliferation is more important for our security than all the small deals we were trying to get, and the assurances we were trying to get concerning Article 5 of the NATO treaty [under which an attack on one member is considered an attack on all], and so on. I think this has been solved, that we are set in these structures quite firmly, and that the only one who raises doubts about it is the Czech Republic.”

When we look at Russia and its foreign policy - what do you think is their approach to the region of central and eastern Europe?

“You can clearly see they know Czechs. They know that whatever they say about the spheres of influence, or Iskander missiles in the Kalinigrad region, that it will resonate here in Prague. And it does resonate a lot. But again, I think it’s very much up to us how we will handle the situation.

“But yes, Russia nowadays still feels a bit like the former Soviet Union. It still takes as a tiny country in their neighbourhood which should be at least controlled economically, or via energy. But I think we have the means to resist.

Illustrative photo
In less than two months, a general election will take place in the Czech Republic. One of the senior parties, the Social Democrats, are pursuing what might be called a “multiple-focus” foreign policy, which includes Russia. Do you think that for Czechs there is an alternative to that?

“First, let me say that for me, one of the most troubling points about the visit by presidents Obama and Medvedev and the whole Prague summit is that we don’t have a functioning political government that could use this opportunity, with the present of the world’s two most powerful politicians and another 11 presidents and prime ministers of central and eastern European countries.

“If there was a [political] government, they could really discuss some important issues. I’m afraid that now, Czech policy-makers are not able to reach a consensus on the foreign and security policy for the country. That’s a big mistake; we saw it in the case of the [planned US] radar base. Now NATO is working on its new strategy, which is something the Czech Republic should have a clear position on.

Daniel Anýž
“And again, one of the main points of the NATO strategy is Russia – how do we feel about it? What will we do about it? Do we need more reassurance from NATO? But when you speak to the Civic Democrats or the Social Democrats, you see that they have different points of view. And I’m afraid that it will be really difficult to find a common ground.”