Prague, Czech Republic – Although he officially left the Czech political arena more than 5 years ago, former President Vaclav Klaus (2003-2013) still manages to spark controversies on a regular basis.
On Sunday, talking on TV Prima about the Ukrainian conflict caused by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and ongoing support to separatists in the country’s eastern provinces, M. Klaus argued that Russian President Vladimir Putin was only behaving out of caution and reasonably, before praising his attitude and ability not to react to continuous provocations as “fortunate”. M. Klaus, who was recently awarded an “Orbanized” Petofi Prize in Budapest, added that Ukraine was being goaded by the Czech Republic and the rest of the Western political elite to provoke Russia.
Such comments did not go down well in Kiev and among top Ukrainian officials. Yevhen Perebyinis, Ukraine’s ambassador in Prague, issued a sharp criticism of the former Czech President’s allegations. Reacting to M. Klaus’ interview, he wrote on Twitter that he had “only one question”: “Does that mean to Czechoslovakia provoked a cautious and reasonable Hitler” back in 1938?
His response received the support of a number of Czech politicians, including former TOP 09 leader Miroslav Kalousek and Czech MEP Jaromir Štětina.
This is not the first time Vaclav Klaus has come under fire for derogatory comments on Ukraine and ill-placed praises of Putin’s Russia – a trait he shares with his successor at the Prague Castle, Milos Zeman. In 2014, one year after stepping down as President, he spoke in favor of the division of Ukraine and criticized the “unilateral pro-Western propaganda” on the topic. He also drew a rather unlikely parallel between the current situation in Ukraine and the peaceful 1993 split of Czechoslovakia – which he oversaw as Prime Minister in the 1990’s.
Those remarks were held during a conference at the Vaclav Klaus Institute organized in cooperation with the American Institute in Ukraine (AIU), a notoriously pro-Russian organization. In response, Kiev University professor Mikhail Kirsenko described them as an illustration of “traditional Czech Russophilism” and “primitive and rude drivel addressed to fools”.
The Ukrainian Embassy had also issued a strong rebuke of his comments: “Unlike the present and former leaders of most countries of the world, Vaclav Klaus is not even ready to admit that the current crisis in eastern Ukraine is a result of a cynical aggression by the Moscow leadership, aimed to return Ukraine to Russia’s sphere of influence”.
On his blog and website, Klaus makes no secret of what he thinks about the current situation in Ukraine: “the first and foremost contribution to the current dramatic situation (in Ukraine) is the obvious political, economic and social failure of Ukraine as an independent state”. Before concluding that “a large part of the European political mainstream tries, together with the United States, to turn Russia into a ‘bogey man’ in the East, something that is in the American strategic interest. Ukraine is only a tool in that respect”.
The Czech Republic’s political landscape has long been divided between those advocating closer relations with Russia, including Vaclav Klaus and his successor, current President Milos Zeman, and those pushing for a tougher line with Moscow. In a show of solidarity with the U.K. and its European partners earlier this year, the Czech Republic expelled several Russian diplomats over the Skripal poisoning case.