Prague faces three days of diplomatic flurry surrounding US-Russia summit

Dmitri Medvédev, foto: ČTK

Prague will be in the world spotlight for the historic signature of a new nuclear arms control agreement between US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. That centrepiece event takes places at noon on Thursday in Prague Castle’s magnificent Spanish Hall. But the Czech capital is playing host to the leaders over three days in total.

Dmitry Medvedev,  photo: CTK
The summit in one sense kicks off on Wednesday night when the Russian president arrives in Prague from the Slovak capital Bratislava where he has been marking the 65th anniversary of its liberation by the Red Army at the end of World War II. He will be whisked off from the airport for talks and a dinner with Czech President Václav Klaus.

Barack Obama does not get into the city until 9 am on Thursday morning. He will have an hour’s face to face meeting with Dmitry Medvedev before the signing of the arms agreement. Then, there is a celebratory lunch for around 70 guests, including top members of the Czech government, parliament and diplomats. After that the Russian president leaves for the airport. The two leaders are scheduled to overlap in Prague for six hours.

At the end of the day President Obama is holding a dinner at the US ambassador’s Prague residence for representatives of 11 countries from Central and Eastern Europe.

At the dinner there should be the presidents of the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Romania. They will be joined by the prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Croatia. The basic message is likely to be reassurance that the US is not ditching countries in the region because it has reset relations with Russia.

Prague Castle’s Spanish Hall,  photo: CTK
Then on Friday morning the US president will have a closing round of talks with Czech President Klaus and Prime Minister Jan Fischer at Prague castle before flying off at noon.

The meeting is being billed by the Czech media as the biggest event in Prague for the last decade, bigger than the International Monetary Fund meeting in 2000, the NATO summit in 2002 or the events which accompanied the Czech presidency of the EU during the first half of last year. These are after all the heads of state of the world’s two biggest superpowers.

The stepped up security involves around 5,000 extra Czech police drafted in. There will be a parking ban on the main road into the city from the airport. Prague castle and surroundings will be closed from Wednesday to the public and will not reopen until after both presidents have left. Police have warned car drivers not to come to the city on Thursday because of the expected traffic chaos and advised people to use public transport.

Photo: CTK
Czechs not really get a chance to see the leaders. The best ordinary people are likely to get is a view of the presidential motorcades. Certainly, there is nothing programmed like President Obama’s open air speech in Prague last year where he shook hands and chatted with the public. That’s a relief for the hundreds of security staff but a bit of a disappointment for Czechs.