Moscow visit hailed as a success

Милош Земан в России (Фото: ЧТК)

Twelve years after the fall of communism the Czech Republic and Russia say they are ready to begin a new era of cooperation. "When we call each other friends - we do so with the utmost sincerity" said the Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman as he and his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kasyanov appeared at a joint press briefing in Moscow. Daniela Lazarova has the story:

Milos Zeman,  photo: CTK
Following the Czech Prime Minister's recent debacle in Israel, which resulted in a storm of international criticism, and the subsequent cancellation of a planned visit to Egypt, Mr. Zeman badly needed to repair his tarnished image. And, the Moscow visit appears to have been an overall success. Not only was the Czech Prime Minister able to announce the details of an agreement on the settlement of Russia's Soviet-era debt to the Czech Republic, but, accompanied by his economic ministers and 70 Czech business leaders, he set about re-gaining some of the country's lost markets in Russia. Under a dozen agreements signed, Russia has committed to supply the Czech Republic with over 1 billion dollars worth of military equipment as well as nuclear fuel for the Czech Republic's nuclear power stations over a period of four years. "Good friends pay their debts," the Czech Prime Minister said, adding that the pay-off opened the way for a new era of business and trade. Russia, he said, offered great opportunities not just as a market for Czech goods but in terms of investment. "There is also the trans-Siberian highway which does not as yet lead to the Czech Republic " - the Czech Prime Minister noted, beaming at the journalists present.

In political negotiations, the mood was also mellow, although - as Mr. Zeman said - "certain differences of opinion remain". The years of hostility, sparked by the Czech Republic's entry to NATO appeared to be over, as the Russian

President Vladimir Putin and the visiting Czech Prime Minister discussed the war against terrorism, Russia's cooperation with NATO and US efforts to broker a cease fire in the Middle East. The Czech Prime Minister also found a staunch ally in the Russian President as regards the dispute over the post-war Benes decrees. The Russian leader expressed full agreement with the view that attempts to revise the outcome of the SWW were unacceptable.

During the four day visit, Mr. Zeman also met with the former Soviet President Michail Gorbachov for private talks which indirectly sparked the only insult the Czech prime Minister served up on this visit to Russia. When a Russian journalist from the APN news agency wrote that the Czech Prime Minister had secretly tried to persuade Mr. Gorbachov to talk President Putin into effecting "a turn to the left" , Mr. Zeman pronounced "I always believed that Czech journalists were the stupidest of all, now I know that this privilege goes to Russian journalists at the APN news agency".