Russian President Dmitri Medvedev arrives in Prague on Wednesday at the invitation of Czech President Václav Klaus. His short visit will entail primarily meetings with President Klaus, who is often noted for his warm attitude towards Russia, and later on Thursday with Prime Minister Petr Nečas. There is plenty on the table for discussion among Czech and Russian leaders, namely business deals and Russia’s bid for the tender to complete the Temelín nuclear power plant in South Bohemia. Many of the milestones in the last decade of Czech-Russian relations however have been negative, with years of debate over the abandoned American missile defence plan and a spy scandal two years ago. Christian Falvey spoke with Petr Kratochvíl, one of the heads of Prague’s Institute of International Relations and an expert on Russia, who he first asked where relations stand now.
“There are many issues that influence Czech-Russian relations. Missile defence is one very important one, but not the only one. There are other economic issues, in the long term also the Czech Republic’s EU and NATO membership had, to some extent, a negative impact on Czech-Russian relations. So I would say that the long-term relationship has experienced a number of ups and downs. I would say that it has been improving lately, since the idea of building part of the radar base in the Czech Republic was abandoned. Russia is also very interested in the expansion of the Temelín nuclear power station, which also means that Russian diplomacy has been much softer towards the Czech Republic in recent months than before.”
They are set to discuss missile defence again, what more do you think can be said on that topic at this point?
“Well, I’m convinced that this will not be a main part of the discussions here. As I said, the talks will focus more on the Temelín power plant. The main reason for this is that the Czech Republic has been sidelined to some extent in the missile defence project, and Russian diplomatic efforts now focus more on other countries that will play more important roles in the project.”
“I don’t believe that he can tip the scales. The problem is that he is lobbying in the wrong place, because President Klaus may be a long-time friend of Russia and very much in favour of Russia’s involvement in Czech politics and the economy, but he is not the figure that will decide about the result of the tender. So there is a big difference between the views of the president and the predominant mood in the Czech Parliament, which is rather sceptical of Russia, and in that regard I believe Russia stands almost no chance of winning the tender.”
Aside from missile defence and Temelín, what do you think this round of personal meetings with President Medvedev could bring to the future of Czech Russian relations?
“First of all we should realize that Medvedev is the weaker person in the tandem compared to Vladimir Putin, and his position has been further weakened, first by Putin’s declared intention to run for the presidency next year, and secondly by the state Duma election in Russia, in which Medvedev let his party’s ballot and the suffered substantial losses. So in that sense, Medvedev is a lame duck, unable to influence either Russian foreign policy or its domestic politics. So I don’t think there will be any far-reaching consequences of this visit, and its impact will be rather limited.”
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