Czech MPs call for tough moves against Russia following clash with Ukraine

Czech MPs have called for tough measures against Russia after it opened fire on Ukrainian ships on Sunday. Members of the lower house’s Foreign Affairs Committee advocate tougher sanctions – while there has also been talk of forcing a reduction in the relatively high staff numbers at Prague’s Russian Embassy.

Incident between the Russian coast guard and a Ukrainian tugboat, Kerch Strait, Nov. 25, 2018, photo: ČTK/AP/Russia's Federal Security ServiceIncident between the Russian coast guard and a Ukrainian tugboat, Kerch Strait, Nov. 25, 2018, photo: ČTK/AP/Russia's Federal Security Service A dangerous new crisis erupted between Russia and Ukraine on Sunday when Russian border patrol boats fired on and seized three Ukrainian naval ships.

Moscow says it was not notified in advance of the ships’ passage along the Kerch Strait. For its part, Kiev insists they followed international rules.

NATO and other Western organisations have called on the two countries to show restraint.

Jan Lipavský is a deputy chair of the Chamber of Deputies’ foreign affairs and defence committees.

Speaking on Czech Radio Plus on Monday, the Czech Pirate Party MP pointed the finger of blame directly at Moscow – and called for a response.

“The situation is very dangerous. It’s necessary to identify it clearly as Russian aggression and a breach of international law. The conflict occurred in international waters and the Russians had no right to block the Kerch Strait. Sanctions could be targeted against the individual members of the Russian leadership who are responsible. European leaders need to agree on this. I would regard it as one form of reprisal.”

Jaroslav Bžoch of ANO is also a deputy chair of the lower house’s Foreign Affairs Committee.

He too backs more sanctions against Moscow, as well as advocating a cut in the relatively high number of staff at the Russian Embassy in Prague.

“Here in the Czech Republic we have the highest number of Russian diplomats, in quotation marks. So I would start with gradually expelling them. The fact that 140 so-called diplomats are operating in our country is simply wrong.”

The Czech BIS intelligence service earlier this year highlighted the number of employees at the Russian Embassy in Prague as a potential security threat.

Tomáš Peříček, photo: ČTK/Ondřej DemlTomáš Peříček, photo: ČTK/Ondřej Deml The recently appointed Czech minister of foreign affairs, Tomáš Petříček, has been outspoken about Russia in recent days, including calling the country “dangerous” to Czech and EU interests.

Speaking on Czech Television on Sunday he said Czech officials were already in the early stages of talks with Russia over reducing staff numbers at its diplomatic mission in Prague.

“One issue is cutting the number of cars registered by the Russian Embassy, which is very high. We can only guess what they are used for. We may hold a discussion in future on reducing the number of diplomats, but above all non-diplomatic staff at the Russian Embassy. The number should correspond to the size of the Czech Republic.”

Mr. Petříček said on Monday that Russia’s actions in the Sea of Azov were just as unacceptable to Prague as the annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea.