Defence Minister Martin Stropnický has said that the Czech Republic could send up to 100 soldiers to serve with NATO forces in eastern member states. Speaking on a TV discussion programme, he made clear that if preparations went according to plan, the Czechs could be sent in the second half of 2016.
As a member of NATO, the Czech Republic is likely to figure in increased security plans on the alliance’s eastern borders. Speaking on public broadcaster Czech TV on Sunday, Defence Minister Martin Stropnický confirmed that under current preparations, as many as 100 Czech soldiers could be sent to serve on a mission in the second half of this year. The rapid response force is aimed both to calm jittery nerves in the Baltic states and Poland following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and intervention in Ukraine. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said recently that beefing up defence among eastern members would send “a clear signal” that NATO would “respond as one to any aggression against any ally”. At the same time, AFP reported that the Secretary-General made clear there would be no return to the days of the Cold War, when he noted the alliance had had “hundreds of thousands of troops on bases”.
Current plans for the rapid response force, expected to be endorsed in July at the NATO summit in Poland, count on much smaller numbers, some 5,000, aimed nevertheless at deterring unexpected military adventures by Russia. On Sunday, Czech Defence Minister Stopnický said, in his view, the call within the alliance for increased security was more than legitimate.
“I do not question for one second the legitimacy of the Baltics’ or Poland’s call. It is a regional power which has experience with Russia. That these countries asked for a greater alliance presence on their territory is warranted.”
Moscow and critics charge that bolstering NATO security along the eastern border will only worsen ties with Russia and have an overall detrimental effect. Euro MP Jan Zahradil, who supports the NATO plans, suggested the cost of doing nothing was much higher – that there were moments it was necessary to hold firm.
“In some cases, you have to be clear, things have to be black-and-white, and you have to show a bit of muscle. This is a case where uncertain political manoeuvring or backtracking in the face of Russia, in my view, would do more damage than good.”
The opposition Euro MP went to pains to say there were a host of issues where he disagreed with the government but that this wasn’t one, reminding listeners he rued the scrapping of past plans for a US military radar base in the Czech Republic and suggesting he would welcome some kind of prominent NATO military base even here.