Recently, as officials from the United States and European Union pushed for anti-Russian sanctions, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka went on record saying that, he did not consider economic sanctions against Russia an appropriate maneuver. Czech state secretary of European Affairs Tomas Prouza, shares this opinion, since recent developments in Ukraine appear to be shifting in a more positive direction.
The Czech Republic may soon find itself caught in the middle of a political and economic tug-of-war between NATO and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and while many Czech citizens feel that intensified anti-Russian sanctions will only hurt the Czech economy, others have begun to speculate on their government’s loyalties towards the former communist party.
Possible positive Ukranian developments do not seem to be enough for some Czech residents who gathered in the center of Prague’s Old Town Square Saturday, petitioning and rallying for peace in Ukraine. Sporting Ukrainian flags and banners that read “Putin feasts on the land, tears, and NOW blood” as well as other anti-Russian phrases, activists compared the current situation in Ukraine to that of the Munich Conference of 1938, which permitted Nazi Germany’s annexation of parts of former Czechoslovakia and is today regarded as one of history’s largest political failures.
“Putin’s arguments and Hitler’s rhetoric are visibly similar,” an anonymous former high-ranking Czech diplomat said, “Russia is economically fragile. The EU should work on finding other vital energy suppliers and continue to press Russia economically. Russia needs the EU and its high-tech equipment more than the EU needs Russian natural gas.”
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Cameron has consistently warned against allowing history to repeat itself in this powerhouse standoff. “This time we cannot meet Putin’s demands. He has already taken Crimea and we cannot allow him to take the whole country,” Cameron said.
Not all experts share his confident stance, however, and in a battle between economics and political integrity, the Czech Republic has much to consider. As of 2013 the GDP growth rate of Czech Republic is -0.9 and Russians currently run over 17,000 Czech firms, a less-than-ideal situation for a country being pressured to enforce stricter anti-Russian sanctions. Many Czechs are even skeptical about whether enforcing the sanctions will effectively overpower Putin’s ideology, or simply force the demand for Czech goods to plummet even further.
Jan Machacek, an arts and economics journalist and commentator, emphasized that it is not only the Czech Republic opposing possible sanctions, and using the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán, and the Austrian government as examples of equal resistance towards anti-Russian behavior, saying that Austria has been the most “cowardly” out of Eastern Europe, referring to Austria’s overly cautious behavior, possibly due to their large Russian community.
“The pro-European government is supposedly more cooperative than the previous government, but indirectly blames ordinary people, saying we are fighting for the interests of Czech employees,” Machacek said, “they should defend sanctions on the basis that we are part of the European family, there is question over how pro-European this government really is.”
Machacek is not the only one who harbors doubts about the loyalties of the current Czech government. Many have speculated that the Social Democratic Party is strongly influenced by the former communist party, and may therefore be less antagonized by Russian actions.
Discussions about a permanent ceasefire solution in the eastern Ukraine are still ongoing though Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko have been meeting for the past few weeks. It seems as though the Czech Republic will be able to overcome the demand for anti-Russian sanctions without damaging its relationship with Russia or the EU.