Russian general warns Czech consent to negotiations on US radar base "a mistake"
On Tuesday officials from the Czech foreign and defence ministries met for talks with Russian representatives in Moscow, including the Chief of the General Staff, General Yuri Baluyevsky. The issue? A possible US radar base stationed on Czech territory. For months Russia has expressed opposition to the idea of US missile defense in Europe and increasingly stepped up political action and rhetoric. On Tuesday General Baluyevsky continued in that vein by stating that Czech consent to negotiations with the US was "a mistake".
"I think it is becoming an increasingly important issue in Russian foreign policy but I think that it is an issue that has been 'taken advantage of'. In my opinion one of the possible explanations for the recent course of Russia's foreign policy - which has become increasingly assertive - is that is partly a reaction to US foreign policy but also a reaction to President Bush. At the same time I think it is also partly an internal game, where you have a stronger, economically resurgent Russia, which can afford to pursue a more assertive policy than, for example, under Boris Yeltsin."
Even such tactics of defiance as Russia's dispatching of bombers near Guam or more recently outside UK airspace - reminiscent of the cold war and an apparent sign of the "new" Russia, says Bures are "more bark than bite".
"This is clearly a political signal but my interpretation is that it is more an internal signal rather than an external message. As far as my information is concerned, Russia actually doesn't have that many strategic bombers and if they send over to the UK or the Guam military base, I think they may have two leftover that are functional for all of Russia. So I think it's a 'nice' gesture but that's all it is - a gesture."
I also asked Oldrich Bures whether he thought the radar issue - especially if the radar were approved - could damage Czech-Russian relations.
So far the US radar proposal for the Czech Republic - despite Russian opposition to the idea - has gotten tentative approval from the Czech government, but even there negotiations are nowhere near wrapping-up, something stressed by Czech representatives on Tuesday. Those are still underway until the end of the year and it remains to be seen whether Russia will continue to ratchet up the pressure. As for the Czech public: ordinary Czechs themselves have seemed far less enthusiastic about the radar base than the government: most surveys till now have suggested that two-thirds remain opposed to the base being stationed in their country.