RFE commentator: missile defence will not cloud Klaus Russia visit


President Vaclav Klaus has embarked on his first state visit to Russia since becoming president. It's a historic visit but one that comes at a time of rising tensions between Prague and Moscow over American plans to build a radar station on Czech soil as part of its missile defence system. Missile defence will undoubtedly dominate talks between President Klaus and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, but will it overshadow them? We asked Radio Free Europe commentator Jefim Fistejn.

Jefim Fistejn
"President Klaus was in Russia many times, such as three years ago during the celebration of the anniversary of the foundation of St Petersburg, and then on working visits. He met Mr Putin many times abroad, so it's not a unique opportunity to meet the Russian president."

What are the main sticking points in relations between Russia and the Czech Republic today?

"The only big issue causing problems is the issue of the American radar station on Czech territory. Another less important issue is the different stance on the Kosovo problem. I don't see any other really important, controversial issues in the relationship. I have to say personal relations between Mr Klaus and the Russian president are extremely friendly - above the international standard."

Why is that? Does Mr Klaus perhaps see Mr Putin as a politician cut from the same cloth, i.e. one who believes in a strong nation state?

"I don't want to speculate about the internal feelings of the two statesmen. It's what can be seen on the surface. The mutual respect can be seen on the surface. In my opinion Mr Klaus had very warm feelings towards Boris Yeltsin as the previous Russian president, so I would say it's just respect towards any solid statesman."

So you don't think this issue of the radar station and missile defence will overshadow Mr Klaus's visit.

"No, I don't see it this way, really. They will probably touch on the issue, but it won't cause any quarrels, any friction, any tension in their relationship. No, they will put this issue a little bit aside, probably touching it in passing. The Russians don't see it as a specifically Czech problem. They see it as a problem in American-Russian relations."

You yourself were born in Kiev. At a time when relations between Europe and Russia are quite strained, do Czechs and Russians enjoy a more healthy relationship?

"Well it's a long, long story. Czechs have in their history had very difficult feelings towards Russia, starting with slavophile feelings, passing through a kind of hatred towards all that 'smells' Russian and now being in this phase of being more or less indifferent towards what is happening in Russia."