The Czech Centres in London and New York are getting new directors this spring, with Přemysl Pela assuming control in the UK capital and Miroslav Konvalina taking the helm in the Big Apple. We spoke to both before their departure for the key branches of the Czech Republic’s cultural diplomacy network in the English-speaking world.
The Czech Republic will increase defense spending to two percent of GDP, meeting requirements under NATO only after 2025 as previously agreed, the prime minister confirmed on Sunday. Speaking in a Czech TV political debate programme, he suggested increasing spending before then made little sense for the Czech military; political opponent Miroslava Němcová countered with the view that defense spending was indeed sluggish. NATO commitments were a campaign issue in the recent US presidential election for president-elect Donald J. Trump, who cast doubt that the US would honour Article 5, coming to allies' defence in the face of foreign aggression, if allies didn't pay their fair share. On Sunday, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka called a reopening of the issue of missile defense in the Czech Republic, backed roughly a decade ago by President George W. Bush, axed by the Obama administration and recently mentioned by Trump surrogate Rudy Giuliani, "science fiction".
The U.S. is seeking permission from the Czech government to fly Global Hawk surveillance drones through Czech airspace, the daily Právo reports. The pilotless aircraft is the largest of its kind in the U.S. fleet and is reportedly to help monitor areas along the Russian border. The U.S. Embassy in Prague declined to comment but the news was confirmed by the spokesman for the Transport Ministry, says the daily. Právo adds that teams from the Interior, Defence, and Transport Ministries have met to discuss ways of accommodating the U.S. plans but suggests getting to yes won’t be easy, saying Czech and European legislation do not deal with long-distance operation of unmanned aircraft.
The Czech government on Monday confirmed it had agreed to allow US military personnel and vehicles returning from a NATO operation in the Baltic states to travel across the Czech Republic to a military base in Germany. The operation, titled Atlantic Resolve, was a show of force and solidarity for NATO countries bordering Russia, nervous over that country’s intervention in Ukraine.
The minister of defence, Martin Stropnický, has denied suggesting that the Czech Republic would not support the stationing of NATO troops on its territory. Mr. Stropnický made the statement in the lower house on Tuesday, a day after an interview carried by the Reuters news agency in which he said the permanent presence of NATO units on Czech soil would be a problem for a significant part of the population in view of the occupation by Soviet troops in the past. The interview was conducted in connection with the increased presence of NATO troops in member states because of the Ukraine crisis. The coalition partners blocked opposition efforts to force a debate on Mr. Stropnický’s comments
Czech president Miloš Zeman has dismissed any resurrection of US plans to construct an anti-missile defence system in the Czech Republic and Poland by saying it would be ineffective. Zeman’s spokesman said that the head of state was standing by his long held views on Czech participation in a US anti-missile defence system. Republican Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain suggested the US revive its plans for a radar station in the Czech Republic and anti-missile base in Poland as reaction to Russia’s intervention in the Ukraine crisis. The plans developed under former president George W Bush were quickly dropped by successor Barack Obama soon after he became president. Moscow frequently protested the proposed siting of the missile defence system in Central Europe saying that it was aimed at undermining its defences and not a move to counter so-called ‘rogue states’.
Republican senator and former US presidential candidate John McCain told Fox News on Monday that a missile defense system scrapped by the Obama administration should be brought back in response to Russia's invasion of Crimea. The senator joined other Republicans, including former vice president Dick Cheney, in criticising the American president, saying for example that Mr Obama had completely "misread" Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Missile defense was a project strongly pursued by the administration of George W. Bush. Originally, a rocket system was planned in Poland and an early warning radar in the Czech Republic. Czech Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek responded to the comments by saying such a system would not have changed anything in the current crisis.
The air forces of 19 NATO members are set to take part in the annual Ramstein Rover exercise held in the Czech Republic in September, the Czech Army said. This year, the exercise will focus on practising cooperation of tactical aircraft and helicopters with forward air controllers, with a view to fulfilling their tasks in NATO’s ISAF mission in Afghanistan, the army said.
The NATO summit in Chicago has approved the setting up of a multinational helicopter training centre based in the Czech Republic. The project, presented together with Croatia, is the Czech Republic’s contribution to NATO’s Smart Defence Initiative. The centre will be used to train the pilots of NATO member states whose militaries are equipped with Russian-made Mi type helicopters. Croatia has offered suitable training ground. The Smart Defence initiative deals with interconnecting different capabilities of member countries to reach higher effectiveness and economy.