If you want to get a Czech really riled up, call him an eastern European. That’s what Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov may have been aiming for when he told his Czech counterpart Karel Schwarzenberg that the Czech Republic and Poland are part of eastern Europe.
Lavrov and Schwarzenberg met in Moscow Wednesday to discuss the planned missile defence shield that the US wants to build in Europe – the radar portion in the Czech Republic, the missile silo in Poland. But after the meeting, also attended by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, the fate of the radar remains less certain than ever, wrote Tereza Nosálková in Thursday’s Hospodářské noviny.
Lavrov reasserted his government’s position that the radar is a provocation aimed at Russia. If the missile defence project goes ahead, Kremlin will react by stationing Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad region, he told journalists.
In response to Schwarzenberg’s comment to a journalist that the Czech Republic is a central, not eastern European country, Lavrov said, “You must realise that, according to UN regional divisions, the Czech Republic and Poland do lie in eastern Europe, Karel.”
Czech media immediately seized upon this geographic distinction, speculating that Lavrov was asserting his country’s might and suggesting that the Czech Republic still belongs under the Russian sphere of interest. “Putin’s Russia still sees the world in terms of Cold War stereotypes,” wrote Lidové noviny’s Zbyněk Petráček.
Schwarzenberg, who said he “wasn’t insulted in the slightest” by the comment, later told journalists that the Czech government “supported really thorough, honest dialogue with Russia because even Russia might need its protection”. He added, however, that Russia was “not easy to deal with”.
The meeting came one day after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Schwarzenberg that the US might not want to build a radar on Czech soil after all and that it largely depends on whether Iran will agree to nuclear disarmament.
This would be a blow to the Czech cabinet which, despite strong public opposition, is very interested in having the radar. Lavrov, on the other hand, said he welcomed the new US administration’s “fresh” approach and attempts to improve its relations with Iran.
The current US government is trying much harder to keep Russian-US relations friendly, Czech media noted. Lavrov even offered to help the US with flying military supplies for the mission in Afghanistan.
It suddenly seems, Nosálková wrote in HN, that the Czechs are now the only ones who want the radar.
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