Kiev, unhappy with recent pro-Russian statements by president, summons Czech ambassador

Miloš Zeman, photo: CTK

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry summoned Czech Ambassador to Kiev on Thursday to ask for an explanation regarding unspecified statements by Czech President Miloš Zeman. In a recent interview for Russian television, the head-of-state described the situation in Ukraine as a civil war and criticised EU sanctions against Russia. Ukraine called the president’s evaluation “unacceptable” and warned that such statements undermined good relations.

Miloš Zeman, photo: CTK
According to some analysts, moves taken in the media by Czech President Milos Zeman, even when they appear spontaneous are almost always calculated and thought through. If so, the president must have known there would be a backlash for his recent description of the situation in Ukraine and of Russia’s role. Earlier this week, US Senator John McCain took exception to the recent approach by the Castle and closer to home, Ukraine itself has now reacted. The description of the crisis unravelling on its territory as a “civil war” rather than outright intervention by Russian troops is seen as unacceptable by Kiev and the Czech ambassador was summoned to explain. Former diplomat and expert on Russia Vladimír Votápek told Czech Radio on Thursday Ukraine’s discontent was hardly surprising, saying the Czech president had at turns changed his position on the crisis by 180 degrees.

“His words at times are so accommodating that Russian propaganda itself could have borrowed them from him. His statements were so close to Russian interests that they have raised eyebrows even in the US Senate.”

Reacting to developments, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka told journalists of a pre-arranged meeting with the president in mid-December. He stated that on matters of foreign policy the Czech Republic needed to present a clear and unified stance and that the government and the president had to be on the same page.

Bohuslav Sobotka, photo: Kristýna Maková
“In general, I think we have largely been successful over the last 10 months but where we haven’t been, we have to talk things through. That means meeting with the president and with the foreign minister to agree on a unified stance which is clear to NATO and to the EU.”

In recent days, Mr Zeman has courted controversy fairly often but also paid the price when jeering crowds spoiled a plaque unveiling ceremony on November 17th. Regarding current discord with Ukraine, the prime minister has been quick to point out that the Czech Republic has a parliamentary system, not a presidential one, making clear the ultimate responsibility for Czech foreign policy will lie with the Czech government and not the head-of-state. On December 10th, the prime minister will have every opportunity to make that point in person.