The Stars and Stripes flew alongside the Czech flag outside the Chamber of Deputies on Wednesday in honour of a visit by Paul Ryan, the speaker of the US House of Representatives. While the speaker is in the Czech Republic on vacation, he met with the prime minister, the Czech speaker and other officials. In his address to the lower house, a rare honour, he spoke about the United States’ commitment to its allies and openly condemned attempts by Russia to sow discord between Prague and Washington.
Although it was a semi-official visit, in part to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia this year, there was no mistaking its importance in light of recent events – the expulsion of more than 100 Russian diplomats from the US, Canada, and at least 14 EU countries including the Czech Republic in reaction to an attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in Great Britain.
In his address to the lower house, Mr Ryan outlined that the US stood firmly by the Czech Republic as an ally, as an economic partner and as a partner within NATO.
In a key moment in the address, he drew on Václav Havel’s famous speech in Congress in 1990 when Czechoslovakia’s newly-elected president spoke of how democracy was dearly bought and how it needed to be defended. Speaker Paul Ryan made clear that message was just as relevant now as then:
“When Havel said ‘We shall not surrender freedom’, he surely knew that there were powers than would try and wrest it back and that would try and take us backwards. He knew that there were forces that would seek to remake the world in their own authoritarian image.
“And as we gather to celebrate the ties of the last century, we are called to confront the challenges of the next century. The Czech people are no strangers to Russian influence, whether in the guise of oppression or whether in the guise of subversion.
“Russia has violated its international norms with its aggression against our closest allies in eastern Europe. More furtively, it spreads disinformation and engages in cyberattacks. It meddles in elections throughout Europe as it did in the United States. Russia does not share our interests or our values; if anything it is seeking to undermine those values. We must see this for what it is.”
Lawmakers gave the speaker a standing ovation and afterwards Mr Ryan and his counterpart Radek Vondráček took questions at an accompanying press event. Mr Ryan was asked about the possible extradition from Prague of a Russian hacker wanted for alleged crimes against the US, where Mr Ryan answered he trusted in a lawful outcome under Czech legislation. It is clear the US hopes that the suspect, Yevgeny Nikulin, will be extradited to face justice.
The most striking aspect of Mr Ryan’s trip?
That while he met with the prime minister and others, there was no trip to Prague Castle and no meeting with President Miloš Zeman, whose own trip to the US to meet with Donald Trump has stalled indefinitely and not come to fruition.
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