Zeman’s Crimea “fait accompli” remarks focus minds on Moscow factor in Czech election

Zeman’s Crimea “fait accompli” remarks focus minds on Moscow factor in Czech election
Zeman is not shy of underlining his closeness to Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin will be hoping to have far more leverage over Czechia after the country's October 20-21 general election.
By bne IntelliNews October 11, 2017

Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region is a “fait accompli” and there should now be dialogue over Russian compensation for Ukraine, Czech President Milos Zeman declared in a speech on October 10, sparking a row with Czechia’s prime minister who responded that the head of state "had no mandate" to make the remarks.

In an address to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg on October 10, Zeman questioned the effectiveness of European Union sanctions imposed after Russia grabbed Crimea in 2014 and proposed that the approach should now be to hold dialogue over Russian compensation to Kyiv, perhaps with gas, oil or money. Czech PM Bohuslav Sobotka quickly hit out at Zeman’s comments, describing them as being "in sharp contradiction to our foreign policy".

The Ukrainian delegation present for Zeman’s speech walked out halfway through it. Ukraine’s permanent representative to the Council of Europe, Dmitry Kuleba, responded that “Crimea is not for sale.”

The Czech president’s closeness to Moscow, Russian oligarchs and Kremlin figures is no secret. He has backed both Russian actions in Eastern Ukraine and Putin’s intervention in Syria. Having presented the Ukrainian conflict as a civil war between rebels and the state, Zeman essentially refutes the idea that there is any Russian aggression or military presence on Ukrainian soil. He has even referred to the EU sanctions against the Russians as “stupid”.

All eyes now turn to the Czech general election scheduled for October 20-21. Should the populist ANO party, closely associated with Zeman, triumph strongly in the poll — and opinion surveys consistently point to its double-digit lead among voters as very likely to make it at least the leading party in a ruling coalition — fears that Czechia is shifting inexorably closer to the Kremlin may be realised.

A Russian government representative who attended the Zeman speech in Strasbourg said that while Moscow welcomes Zeman’s recognition of the status of Crimea as a "done deal”, the region "is not the subject of haggling or transactions," Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

While careful not to over-endorse Zeman, Moscow will nevertheless be keeping a close eye on the upcoming Czech election. Should Eurosceptic and anti-immigrant ANO, led by billionaire-turned-politician Andrej Babis (still riding high despite now facing fraud charges over an EU business subsidy), take the helm with a convincing victory, Putin’s relentless campaign “to weaken the West from within” — as it is now commonly referred to by analysts — will have notched up a great success. And not only that. It could signify ominous times ahead for those who fear the rest of Eastern and Central Europe could soon be firmly back within Moscow’s sphere of influence.