Czech President Miloš Zeman’s interview on Sunday with the national online newspaper Blesk was unusually tough and outspoken even for the Czech head of state, who is well-known as an independent thinker. Zeman virtually admitted that there was a group of countries within the European Union who were against the anti-Russian sanctions, and declared that with regard to relations between the West and Russia, priority should be given to trade and economic cooperation rather than political confrontation.
«I am not a Kremlin propagandist. The German Chancellor, Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban have all been more critical of the sanctions than I. I am among respectable people», was the main leitmotif in Miloš Zeman’s interview. Asked about the reasons for his position and why the Czech leader has seemingly taken it upon himself to become Russian President Vladimir Putin’s «protector», the Czech President said: «Firstly, the last time I met with Putin was 15 years ago, and secondly, I am not helping Putin, I am helping ensure that normal trade and economic relations exist between the Czech Republic and the Russian Federation, not relations burdened by sanctions».
According to Miloš Zeman, the European Union has a year at most to lift the sanctions against Russia. Otherwise, EU members can expect not just huge, but irreparable losses. Among other things, Czech businesses will be unable to re-establish their positions on the Russian market and will be driven out by companies from other countries, and the first companies will be American. Zeman believes that this has happened before in the history of his country; when the Czech Republic was still part of Czechoslovakia, the country refused to cooperate with Russia in the field of military technology. As a result, the country lost its business reputation and its share of the market – both the Russian market and the global market. «Something similar once happened with the defence industry. Now, as the Czech president, I am trying to prevent it», said Miloš Zeman.
In present conditions, the Czech Republic could once again find itself facing a similar situation, and the entire structure of Czech imports would be at risk. According to independent sources, the current volume of Czech imports from Russia amounts to USD 8 billion, which is comparable with the volume of Czech exports to Russia. The sustainable growth rate of corresponding figures observed since 2009, that is to say the beginning of the global economic crisis, is particularly important. According to the Federal Customs Service of Russia, trade between Russia and the Czech Republic in 2009 amounted to USD 6.8 billion, in 2010 it was USD 8.4 billion, in 2011 – USD 9.9 billion, and in 2012 – USD 10.5 billion.
Losses in trade with Russia could be irreparable for the Czech Republic, especially bearing in mind the country’s unenviable economic situation at present. In terms of its current balance of payments, for example, the Czech Republic is 160th in the world; in 2013, the country had a negative balance of USD 3.27 billion. According to this indicator, the Czech Republic is trailing behind Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Thailand, and Lebanon, and is only slightly ahead of Yemen and Syria, which are both racked by internal conflict.
Essentially, the Czech Republic has turned out to be a hostage of the EU and NATO’s anti-Russian policy. There are those within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization who are in favour of the alliance becoming more actively involved in the Ukrainian conflict, and Prague is becoming increasingly worried about it all. The Czech Republic, along with its neighbours Slovakia and Hungary, are against supplying weapons to the Kiev regime. There are also objections ringing out in the US. »Sending a mix of weapons to Ukraine is unlikely to improve the situation, […] but it could add fuel to [the] fire», writes Michael Kofman in The National Interest.
Miloš Zeman’s sensible position is also finding support in Czech society, which is not traditionally prone to sympathising with Russia. Gabor Stier, a journalist for the online newspaper ČESKÁ POZICE, notes that in its attempts to isolate Russia, Europe is closing its eyes to Ukrainian Nazism. The West will stop at nothing and is even ready to distort the past, writes the Czech analyst, recalling with indignation the scandalous refusal of Western leaders to honour the memory of the victims of Auschwitz, which was liberated by the Red Army, alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin. The same was said by Jaromír Petřík, the author of the Czech website Svobodné noviny: Poland did not invite Vladimir Putin, but it invited Petro Poroshenko. How is such a thing possible? After all, the Ukrainian president is the representative of a country that is carrying out a war against its own people, a war that is breeding Nazism. «I never thought the time would come when our ‘democracy’ would once again side with fascism. But that day has arrived», observes Jaromír Petřík.
Brussels is indeed absorbed in playing its anti-Russian games, even if the Czech Republic, remembering the events of 1968, is siding with Russia.
The Czech Republic has already suffered its own tragic experience of what a collusion between Nazis and the democratic West actually is. The Czech Republic also has firsthand experience of the benefits of trade and economic cooperation with Moscow. Russia, writes the Czech political scientist Oskar Krejčí, will be able to replace the EU market more quickly and effectively than the EU will be able to replace the Russian market. Brussels can expect hard times, Krejčí believes: as well as its loss of the Russian market, it is also going to have to put a lot of money into Ukraine, which it will never get back. The anti-Russian policy is already resulting in significant economic losses for the EU. According to Spain’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Manuel García-Margallo, «the EU has so far lost EUR 21 billion due to a fall in its exports».