The prime minister of Ukraine, Mykola Azarov, will on Monday arrive in
Prague for talks with officials in an attempt to restart political dialogue
between the two countries, the news agency ČTK reported. The visit comes
months after Czech-Ukrainian relations took a serious downturn; in May,
Ukraine expelled two Czech embassy workers in retaliation for Prague having
granted asylum to a former Ukrainian government minister.
During the brief official visit, Mr Azarov is set meet with Czech PM Petr Nečas to discuss mutual cooperation, particularly in the energy and industry sectors, as well as Ukraine’s approximation to the EU; the Ukrainian leader will also meet Czech President Václav Klaus.
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has come under fire from opposition MP and shadow foreign minister Lubomir Zaorálek after Mr Schwarzenberg wore a pin mocking Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the Czech Chamber of Deputies on Thursday. According to press reports, the badge referred to the Russian leader with dog commands, such as “Putin heel!”. The Czech foreign minister has responded by saying it was only a joke, stressing that he would be disappointed if Mr Putin were offended by it. He also said he wasn’t sure exactly what was written on the pin, explaining that he had worn it to please someone who had given it to him. Social Democrat Lubomir Zaorálek called the incident “surprising” and “unfortunate”.
The US Senate on Monday confirmed Norman Eisen in the post of US ambassador to Prague overcoming opposition by Republican Senator Charles Grassley. Senator Grassley successfully blocked Mr. Eisen’s nomination to the post a year ago, prompting President Obama to by-pass the regular confirmation process during a Senate recess and name him to a temporary one-year term, due to expire in January. Senator Grassley’s claim that in 2009 Mr. Eisen violated the law by the manner of his dismissal of a high-ranking employee, was dismissed by Republican senators who pointed out that a court had exonerated Mr. Eisen from the allegations of improper conduct. The acting ambassador was confirmed in office by a 70-16 majority.
The Czech foreign minister, Karel Schwarzenberg, has indicted that the Czech government would have little choice but to approve the loan in view of the fact that a rejection would result in the country’s isolation and could have a far-reaching negative impact on its future development. Mr. Schwarzenberg also pointed out that as an EU member the Czech Republic had a moral obligation to pull its weight in helping to save the euro. The money loaned would not be used for direct assistance but to help boost the IMFs reserves at a time of economic crisis. The matter should be consulted with parliament although the government has the final word on the loan.
Just preceding the Russian President’s visit, Mr Schwarzenberg also responded toughly to Russia’s opposition to NATO’s missile defence project. Asked about Russian demands for legal guarantees regarding the planned anti-missile shield, Mr Schwarzenberg said the alliance would not have conditions dictated to it, and that Moscow’s Cold War stance towards the project was confused. President Medvedev has threatened to install missiles in Kaliningrad and other regions that would target parts of the Western anti-missile project. Secretary General of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Russia would be wasting its money if it invested in counter-measures against the NATO project. NATO has repeatedly called on Moscow to cooperate with it in the sphere of anti-missile defence.
Representatives of Czech and Russian businesses concluded contracts worth tens of billions of crowns at Prague Castle on Thursday, in the presence of their respective presidents. The main deal is for the construction of a 400km railway line in the Ural Mountains worth nearly 40 billion crowns. The work is to be done under the management of the Brno-based company OHL ŽS and will be co-financed by Czech and Russian banks. Czech companies also secured three other multi-billion crown projects for the construction of fossil-fuel power stations and a chemical factory. A declaration of partnership for modernisation was also concluded between Russia and the Czech Republic, following negotiations between their delegations Thursday afternoon.
Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has criticised Russia’s recent parliamentary elections and the disproportionate use of force against protestors there. Speaking in Brussels, the foreign minister said the amount of objections to the elections was lamentable, as he had hoped that the days of Russia using force to influence elections were over. He welcomed the presence of Dmitri Medvedev in Prague and said it confirmed good relations between the countries, but said he would welcome more the news that Moscow was responding to the results of the elections more calmly and appropriately. If he had the chance to speak with Mr Medvedev, he said he would ask if he too does not find the crackdown disproportionate.
Prague Castle welcomed Russian President Dmitry Medvedev with official honours on Thursday morning. Czech President Václav Klaus received his Russian counterpart late Wednesday evening at the Strahov Monastery. After bilateral talks regarding economic issues and a ceremonial luncheon, President Klaus expressed his support for good aspects of the Russian bid for the completion of the Temelín nuclear power plant, saying that it provided the most subcontracts for Czech business. The Russian President later met with Prime Minister Petr Nečas, with whom he then travelled to Brussels. Mr Medvedev also opened an exhibition of artworks from the Kremlin collections at Prague Castle.
President Klaus drew fire from political pundits after Thursday’s state visit for his refusal to comment on the situation surrounding recent Russian elections. Mr Klaus summed up the question marks over the elections process and the police crackdown on antiestablishment demonstrators as Russia’s internal issue, adding that he himself did not appreciate foreign commentaries on Czech domestic affairs. Political scientists contacted by the Czech Press Agency were wholly negative, with some suggesting it showed needless or even harmful favouritism. The European Union has openly criticised the election, while US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the poll was neither free nor fair. The Mr Klaus said he found the question as off the mark as asking Mr Medvedev what he thought of Wednesday’s teachers’ strike in the Czech Republic.
More than a dozen important bilateral agreements and business deals were on the agenda of a two-day state visit to Prague by the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his entourage. Bilateral relations were at the forefront of attention, but topics such as the eurozone’s debt crisis and the recent parliamentary elections in Russia were also addressed.
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