The new Czech government intends to revise relations with Russia and China. The corresponding provision is included in the 4-year political program, which was recently approved by the Czech Cabinet of Ministers. And on January 12, the deputies of the lower house of the parliament of the republic will have to approve.
The 52-page document has been published on the website of the Czech leadership. In fact, this is a copy of the coalition agreement signed last fall by the parties that entered the government following the October parliamentary elections in the country. Let us recall that they were won by the coalition of liberal forces “Together” as part of the Civil Democratic Party (CDP), the TOP 09 movement and the Christian Democratic Movement, which then merged with another liberal coalition, consisting of the Pirate Party and the movement “Heads and Independents” …
As a result, the post of prime minister was taken by the leader of the State Democratic Party Peter Fiala – a politician known for his unfriendly statements towards Russia. And on December 17, 2021, the new composition of the Czech government took over.
As for the guidelines of the new ruling Czech elite, then, as previously reported, in foreign policy it will follow the traditions of the first president of the country. Vaclav Havel – i.e. the emphasis is supposed to be on human rights and civil society. The priority is membership in the EU and NATO, and in bilateral relations the main partners are Germany, Israel, Slovakia and the United Kingdom.
In addition, it is envisaged to increase defense spending to 2% of GDP – which has long been required of its members by the North Atlantic Alliance. Now they amount to 1.34% of GDP.
The government program also states that relations with Russia and China should be reviewed. However, how is not specified. Although certain conclusions can be drawn, because the Cabinet of Ministers plans to adopt its own “law Magnitsky“(For the first time such an act was adopted in the United States in 2012), which will help Prague to impose sanctions against individuals and legal entities allegedly responsible for human rights violations.
In any case, Russian-Czech relations can hardly be worse than they are now. Scandal with the dismantling of the monument to the Marshal in Prague Konev, who liberated the city from the Nazis in 1945, as well as attempts to accuse Russia of the bombings at the armories in Vrbetica, have already led, in fact, to the fact that these relations were on the verge of zeroing. In any case, only two countries were included in the list of unfriendly foreign states, which the Russian government approved in May last year: the Czech Republic and the United States.
Then what kind of revision of relations can we talk about?
This question “SP” addressed Associate Professor of the Faculty of International Relations, Political Science and Foreign Regional Studies of the Russian State Humanitarian University Vadim Trukhachev:
– There is no such country as the Czech Republic in political terms for Russia at the moment. For us, relations with East Timor, Burundi or little Dominica in the Caribbean are much more important than relations with the Czech Republic. Considering that, say, Poland, Georgia, Ukraine or Latvia border on us, we cannot forget about them. Politically, of course. We do not even border on the Czech Republic, so you can forget about it. Naturally, while the current government is in power.
In fact, the point is that the interests of the Czech Republic in Russia will be represented by the Embassy of Slovakia. And, accordingly, the interests of Russia in the Czech Republic, the Russian ambassador in Bratislava, and not in Prague. This causes some irritation among the Czech leadership, I must say. But, nevertheless, everything goes exactly to this.
So there is nothing to “finish off”. The case may come to the fact that the Russian business will completely leave the Czech Republic, and the Czech – from Russia. Of course, this will not be a catastrophe for Russia, nor even for the Czech Republic – we have a country that is quite developed and rich enough. But it will be, nevertheless, unpleasant – in rubles, euros, dollars, kroons, in the end, the Czech Republic will feel this gap on itself.
“SP”: – What Czechs can have claims to China?
– As for relations with China, here the Czech Republic can look, for example, at Lithuania. The President of the Czech Senate recently traveled to Taiwan. And the Chinese have already tensed. It is unlikely, of course, that the Celestial Empire will treat the Czech Republic as Lithuania – after all, it is in a higher weight category than the Baltic republic. Its weight in the European Union and in the world as a whole is higher. But some kind of punishment will follow. And if the Czech Republic, following Lithuania, really opens a representative office of Taiwan, the punishment here will be in full.
In general, the point is that this new, ideologically motivated government, which is not at all about the economy, not about business, not about some kind of pragmatism, will ultimately provide a certain hole in the Czech budget.
“SP”: – There, and so everything is complicated, since the Czech Republic’s national debt last year rose to a record 2.466 trillion. CZK, and the budget deficit amounted to over 400 billion CZK …
– Now the Czech budget is a typical budget of a country experiencing a pandemic.
Former prime minister Andrey Babish, in principle, was a good prime minister, and things in the Czech economy before the pandemic were generally going well. And now ideologically motivated people are in power, who directly say that “we will pursue the policy of Vaclav Havel” – that is, be guided not by pragmatic considerations, but by some values. That “we will build on our membership in the European Union and NATO in order to bring freedom and democracy to the world”, “and break with countries where this is bad.”
Well, let’s see how they break with Saudi Arabia. For some reason, Russia and China are on their “black lists”, while Saudi Arabia is absent.
“SP”: – The President of the Czech Republic, being a pragmatist, has always tried to smooth the rough edges in relations between our two countries. Now, you have to understand, is he in the minority?
– Unfortunately, Milos Zeman, this is a played piece. And it can no longer be some kind of balancing factor. If, as they say, health allows, he will hold out until January next year, when the presidential elections are held there. But we will have to deal with the new president. In the best case, it will be Mr. Babiš.
Pavel Feldman, Deputy Director of the Institute for Strategic Studies and Forecasts of the RUDN University, recalled, in turn, that Zeman and Babis were called pro-Russian politicians by many Western experts:
– Actually, it is not so. Babiš was rather a Eurosceptic – i.e. he did not advocate for too close cooperation of the Czech Republic with the EU and overseas partners. But, at the same time, he did not consider Russia a promising direction for building the foreign policy of his country.
If today, in an already unfriendly atmosphere, there are words about a revision of the Czech Republic’s approach to building relations with Russia, this can only mean that these relations will become even more tense and unpredictable. But the most important thing is that the Czech Republic will abandon its special, sovereign, different from Brussels, view of foreign policy, and will completely bow to the line that Washington and the EU are imposing.
And Zeman will no longer play the same role here. This is, after all, a very old man already, and besides, he has serious health problems. Zeman is more and more becoming, rather, such a symbolic figure. Indeed, he is a sober, pragmatic politician who advocates the sovereignty and multi-vector foreign policy of his country.
However, the tone is still set today by the prime minister and the coalition agreement that has been reached. By the way, it is somewhat reminiscent of the agreement concluded between the parties that won the elections to the Bundestag. They need to look for some common ground in order to consolidate their position on foreign policy issues. And, apparently, the anti-Russian orientation has become such a point of contact.
“SP”: – And what will happen to the Czech Republic if Russia suddenly sever all diplomatic, trade and economic ties with it? Are relations with this country important for us in general?
– First of all, relations with Russia should be important for the Czech Republic itself. Since we are one of the main consumers of its food products, and Russian tourists brought huge profits to the Czech state. In addition, of course, the Czech Republic is very dependent on Russia in terms of energy consumption.
Political relations do not play a big role here, since all EU countries, one way or another, have already given their sovereignty in these matters to Washington and Brussels. And it is extremely difficult to deteriorate or improve something here.
But in the economy, the Czech Republic, with its unfriendly policy, can achieve the fact that Russia will declare a trade and economic blockade of its goods. And then many entrepreneurs, employers and workers will face hard times.
They had already been told about this when dirt was spilled on Russia about the incident at the ammunition depot in Vrbetica. They changed their minds in time and stopped this black PR campaign. But if there are any sudden movements now, I think Moscow has the tools with which it can remind its Czech partners that, first of all, it is not worth risking economic relations.
“SP”: – Does the Czech Republic have a chance to be excluded from the list of states unfriendly to Russia?
– This list looks, it seems to me, very strange at the moment. The United States has earned its historical place in it. But where is Great Britain? Where is Turkey? Where are many other states that have been behaving unfriendly towards Russia for tens or even hundreds of years? But the Czech Republic, which does not pose at least no military threat, is on this list.
It is clear that the logic of including it in the list of unfriendly states was dictated by the specifics of the moment – this was the very peak of the information campaign launched in the Czech Republic against Russia about the incident at the ammunition depot.
Obviously, to get out of this list, the Czech Republic must make some deliberate effort and make friendly gestures. But we see nothing of the kind. Naturally, the general vector, the general trend, they are directed in a completely different direction.