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Wed. October 17, 2018
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Zeman-Putin: bonded by business
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By Georgii Kukhaleishvili

Recently, in his interview for “The Wall Street Jornal” Milosh Zeman, the President of Czech Republic expressed opinion that “Islamist State” is more risk for European security than Russia’s policy. Though, the head of Czech state refused to visit military parade in Moscow on May, 9, he pointed out that sanctions against Russia are ineffective to solve crisis in Ukraine.

From the first sight it seems that as well as Greece, Czech Republic plays the role of strong Putin’s advocate in the EU. But results of Ipsos poll draw another impression. For instance, 63% of Czech citizens don’t share opinion of their President on support of Russia and even more of them (71%) reject Putin’s policy. Just more than 60% of Czechs are sure in threat of further Russia’s intervention to Baltic states and they are for deepening of relations with the NATO. It seems to be a controversy between official position of head of state and majority of citizens in Czech Republic. Why doesn’t Mr. Zeman take into account the opinion of active citizens? Like his Hungarian soul mate Victor Orban. Ukrainian experience shows that even ignoring of political minority’s interests by legal government might affect unexpected social clashes.

There is no use to judge from one side about  loyalty of M. Zeman to Kremlin position. It is likely that “friendship of Zeman and Putin” is provoked by economic factors. Long before “North Stream” pipeline was constructed, Czech Republic had been one of the top-importers of Russian natural gas. Since 2013 importance of Czech Republic as partner of Russia in the field of gas transit became more significant, after “GAZELLE” pipeline, with 30 billion cubic meters capacity, was constructed through its territory. This pipeline is next transit corridor after German “OPAL” – the land part of “North Stream”. The “GAZELLE” can serve for further export of Russian natural gas to France and Southern Germany. President Zeman and his supporters that don’t support sanctions against Russia are a guaranty for Kremlin to continue export of natural gas to European recipients. Even if embargo upon export of Russian gas is placed by Poland, Baltic states that consider Russian aggression in Ukraine to be a potential threat for national security. It will be possible only if Iran start to procure natural gas to the EU before “Power of Siberia” pipeline to China is constructed. Probably, Iran has a chance to decline share of Russia at European gas market. Presidency of M. Zeman is also important for Russia because traditionally the majority of former heads of Czech Republic, including V. Gavel, were supporters of close relations with the USA within NATO. About 10 years ago Czech Republic was ready to deploy the U.S. BMD system to deter Russia’s expansion.

Additionally, by the end of 2012 the total Czech investment in Russian economy (5-th trade partner of Czech Republic) amounted USD 1,3 billion. Every year, due to expenses of Russian tourists, Czech economy receives about USD 500 million.

It’s likely that M. Zeman’s anti-sanctions rhetoric against the EU is affected by his intention to protect interest of some Czech business elites that have close links with Russia in industrial and service sectors. However, it’s not a reason to consider Czech Republic to be a re-translator of Russia’s information policy in the EU. Political elites change despite historical problems in bilateral relations on governmental and informal level. This is proved by anti-Russian position of the majority of Czechs. Since collapse of Soviet Union, societies of Central and Eastern Europe have been anxious about possibility of restoration of Russian interests within their borders. Especially, this tendency characterizes Czech society that has still irreconcilable attitude to Moscow’s interference into its internal policy and suppression of democratic course in 1968, with the assistance of other Warsaw Pact participants. Russia has bad association with regress and absence of alternative choice among Czech society, despite socialists and supporters of M. Zeman.

It’s unlikely that idea of “Russian world”, spreading by Kremlin outlets, is popular in Czech Republic, because mutual interests of both states are determined only by business ties. According to results of the Ipsos poll, Czech citizens don’t see the future of their state within Kremlin’s foreign policy. 

Georgii Kukhaleishvili is a free-lance political analyst.  He holds a Masters degree in Political Science from Mariupol State University, Ukraine.

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