Prague condemns Russia’s annexation of Crimea

Vladimir Putin, photo: CTK

President Vladimir Putin’s signature on Tuesday of a treaty absorbing Crimea into Russia has met broad international condemnation. Here in the Czech Republic, the foreign minister says a speech by Mr. Putin signals fresh Russian imperial ambitions, while the country’s former top diplomat slammed an annexation with which Czechs can draw painful comparisons.

Vladimir Putin,  photo: CTK
On Tuesday Vladimir Putin signed a treaty absorbing Crimea into Russia. The move immediately followed a disputed referendum in which Crimea’s pro-Russian population voted to split from Ukraine, sparking what is being called the most significant crisis in relations between Russia and the West since the close of the Cold War.

Speaking on Tuesday evening, the Czech Republic’s foreign minister, Lubomír Zaorálek, chimed with broad international condemnation of Russia’s latest move.

“If one hears or reads today’s speech by Mr. Putin, one gets the impression that Vladimir Putin wants to revive the Russian empire.”

In an interview with Mladá fronta Dnes, Mr. Zaorálek said comparisons with the Cold War could in fact suit Mr. Putin, as Russia could appear as strong a competitor to the West as it had been in the past.

Lubomír Zaorálek,  Bohuslav Sobotka,  photo: CTK
Meanwhile, the Czech Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Wednesday saying it would never accept the undermining of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and the annexation of Crimea.

The Czech Republic, it said, was “unusually sensitive” to Russia’s actions partly because of the nation’s own experiences in the late 1930s, when the Nazis stage-managed a vote in freshly occupied Czech border areas.

Ex-foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg of opposition party TOP 09 echoed that sentiment, pointing to the fact Czechs had twice been subject to occupation in the modern era, by the Germans and the Russians.

“In politics it’s the case that appetite grows with every bite. So it really is our duty to stand up for our Ukrainian friends and for international law. A big power is never justified in taking over the territory of a neighbouring state, holding a referendum under the barrel of a gun and annexing that territory. We have to take a clear stand against this – not just the Czech Republic but Europe as a whole.”

Karel Schwarzenberg,  photo: Filip Jandourek
For his part the Czech prime minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, has described Russia’s action as unacceptable.

However, the PM on Wednesday reaffirmed his opposition to blanket sanctions against Russia. He has repeatedly said such a move could harm the Czech economy.

Mr. Sobotka said he did not expect that EU leaders would adopt sanctions at a meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, though he said some “movement” in that area was indeed possible.