President Zeman proposes “Finlandization” of Ukraine

Miloš Zeman, photo: Filip Jandourek

Czech President Miloš Zeman continues to stir controversy in the international arena. After criticising the EU’s sanctions against Moscow and questioning Russia’s involvement in the conflict in Ukraine, Mr Zeman has now suggested that Ukraine should drop its NATO aspirations. Instead, he argues, Ukraine should emulate Finland’s neutrality of the Cold War era.

Miloš Zeman,  photo: Filip Jandourek
In recent weeks, President Miloš Zeman has become a dominant voice in Czech foreign policy – and one that has come under scathing criticism both at home and abroad.

Last week, thousands of people took to the streets of Prague on the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution to protest against the president’s views on China, Russia, and a host of other issues.

Quoting Mr Zeman’s support for Moscow’s position on Ukraine, and his vulgar denouncement of Russian political prisoners, the Washington Post called the Czech head of state “a virtual mouthpiece” for Vladimir Putin.

Czech Prime Minister Sobotka has meanwhile tried to mitigate the damage, saying the president should consult key foreign policy matters with the government.

Mr Zeman however continues to air his views without restraint. During an official visit to Kazachstan on Tuesday, the president praised the German foreign minister’s recent dismissal of Ukraine’ aspiration to join NATO.

Ukrainian serviceman gets ready to fire near Trehizbenka village,  Ukraine,  November 23,  2014,  photo: CTK
The Czech President went on to suggest that a more pro-Russian approach is now gaining ground in Germany and elsewhere in the EU, and added a proposal of his own.

“I’m glad that such a reversal is gradually taking place. I was one of those who were targeted because of it with relatively stupid aggression but I can now see this tendency is growing stronger. As far as Ukraine is concerned, my consistent opinion is that the country should be neutral and should undergo ‘Finlandization’.”

The latter term suggests Ukraine should subordinate its foreign and defence policies to its powerful eastern neighbour, just like Finland did during the Cold War.

Some Czech government officials, including Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek and deputy prime minister Andrej Babiš, were quick to reject the president’s view, with both arguing that no one should tell Ukraine what to do.

Jiří Schneider,  photo: Jindřich Rambousek
However, some commentators wonder whether the government is capable of standing up to Mr Zeman when it comes to foreign policy.

Former deputy foreign minister Jiří Schneider is now senior fellow at the Prague Security Studies Institute.

“The perception at best in this situation would be the Czech Republic is not speaking in one voice, and there will always be the question, which voice should we rely on? That undermines our credibility, which is the basic currency in diplomacy.

So even if the government tries to put things right in line with its own policy, the result would be not 100 but 50 percent.”