To Russia with love: smiles all round as Czech President visits Moscow

Czech President Václav Klaus has just returned from an official trip to Moscow where he held talks with the Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev. High on the agenda was energy, with Mr Klaus welcoming the possibility of Russian companies taking part in major power projects in the Czech Republic. While he has become something of a bête noire for the European Union, the Czech president has friendly relations with the Kremlin. Why is Mr Klaus so pro-Russian? That question was put to Jiří Schneider of the Prague Security Studies Institute.

“President Klaus belongs to those who are definitely keen to have friendly relations with Russia. He is not alone, not even in this country. He is not alone in Europe. We see this kind of policy towards Russia among many European politicians. On this, on the Czech scene, he is quite close to the left. Basically, this is a paradox.

Václav Klaus, Dmitry Medvedev (right), photo: CTKVáclav Klaus, Dmitry Medvedev (right), photo: CTK His own party, the ODS [Civic Democrats] has a different point of view on that. They are more cautious and they see more risks and not just opportunities. It is not that the ODS does not see opportunities in developing relations with Russia. Russia is a natural partner for many European countries and we simply cannot turn a blind eye to the scope of the economy and also its military might.”

Do you think he has a blind spot for Russia and has too friendly relations.

“I would not call it a blind spot. On the contrary, I would rather say that he sees Russia as too big, too powerful to be neglected. It is the opposite of a blind spot. And he is very keen to express this opinion towards Russia.”

What is at stake in current Czech-Russian relations, you mentioned the economic issues raised yesterday.

“The thing is that if Russia was playing by the European rules then everyone would be happy to have more Russian subjects, more Russian companies on European markets. The problem is that Russia is politicising the economy. It is using energy as a tool of foreign policy and that is a problem. It is especially a concern to those dealing with energy security.

Temelín nuclear power plantTemelín nuclear power plant Another issue is nuclear energy, that was part of this visit. Russia declared its interest through its company in participating in developing new nuclear reactors in this country and not only that, also storage of nuclear fuel. There is nothing bad about the participation of Russian companies. If there are also other participants in the tender it might also be better if there is more competition. On the other hand, everybody in Europe wants to be sure this is economic and not political. And there I would say that Klaus is playing down these concerns and he is behaving as if there is no risk attached to economic relations with state companies in Russia. And this is what is debated.”