Ukrainian crisis bonds Czech political scene and public as never before

Ukrainian soldiers take positions outside a military facility as two cars burn, Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb. 26, 2022

The Russian military aggression in Ukraine and the country’s brave efforts to resist the invasion have sparked an unprecedented wave of solidarity in the Czech Republic. It is not just the close proximity of the country, located just 300 km away, but also echoes of the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia that have jolted politicians and the public into action.

Normally a reserved player on the international scene, the Czech Republic has lost no time in responding to Ukraine’s appeals for weapons and aid. Announcing a third delivery of military equipment to the country in a matter of days, Prime Minister Petr Fiala said there was no time to be lost.

“We have the same historic experience. We know what Russian aggression is like. The Ukrainian people are defending their freedom and fighting for their lives. Words of support are not enough. We must give them exactly what they need to defend themselves.”

The Czech Republic has sent the country submachine guns, sniper rifles, pistols and ammunition and on Sunday dispatched unspecified weapons systems, which President Zelensky personally requested in a phone call with Prime Minister Fiala. The armed forces also dispatched hundreds of tons of fuel.

Jana Černochová | Photo: Michal Kamaryt,  ČTK

Defense Minister Jana Černochová said the ministry was ready to respond to any further requests made by Ukraine as best as it could, and was currently organizing blood donations and collecting medical aid for the country.

“We have been making lists of people in the armed forces and reservists who are willing to donate blood for Ukraine. We have sufficient blood donations at this stage and are negotiating how and where it will be transported. The Ministry of Defense is also collecting and transporting medical aid and humanitarian supplies collected for Ukraine in the regions.”

In the past few days, the Czech Republic has actively lobbied for harsher sanctions against Russia in the EU, including the country’s exclusion from the international payment system SWIFT.  Within a series of unilateral measures, the country has stopped issuing visas to Russian citizens, except in humanitarian cases, and is urging the EU to implement a similar measure across the Schengen space.

The cabinet has approved the potential deployment of up to 580 Czech troops to the North Atlantic Alliance's Rapid Reaction Force anywhere in NATO and has closed its airspace to Russian airlines.

Photo: Slavomír Kubeš,  ČTK

The Czech prime minister said that while isolating Russia would be costly, Europe must be prepared to pay the price for future European security. He said the latest developments in Ukraine showed the importance of investing the required 2 percent of GDP into defense, which the Czech Republic is committed to fulfilling by 2025, and the importance of severing the EUs dependence on Russian oil and gas, issues that were previously questioned by some Czech politicians.

The government was also super quick to respond to the humanitarian crisis evolving just 300 km from the country’s eastern border, saying it was ready to take in any number of Ukrainian refugees, a decision that has won backing from political parties across the board as well as the broad public.

As one commentator noted – President Putin has accomplished what no one else could – he has united Czech politicians and the public alike, albeit for short time. But, even when the worst is over, this is a lesson that Czechs and the rest of the world are unlikely to forget.