The Czech Republic is interested in having normal relations with Russia, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis told CTK on Wednesday.
“We are interested in normal relations with Russia,” he stressed. He expressed hope that the issues arising in the relations between both states would be regulated on the outcomes of mutual talks. He added that the Czech Republic approaches the organization of such talks “very responsibly.”
Babis expressed hope that the Russian-Czech talks stipulated under the 1993 Friendship and Cooperation Treaty would lead to the meeting between Russian and Czech leaders. “The fact that the Czech-Russian relations are not ideal is not surprising neither to us nor to Russians. This is why we have agreed to begin Czech-Russian consultations,” the PM noted.
During the talks, the parties will assess the state of Russian-Czech relations and regulate the existing disputes. The Czech government is interested in developing cooperation between both states, Babis added.
The Czech PM’s words came as a follow-up to the earlier statement made by Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov. Peskov told reporters on Wednesday that so far, no high-or top-level talks are planned between Russia and the Czech Republic.
When asked about the state of Russian-Czech relations due to recent events, namely the arrest of Ivan Safronov, advisor to the head of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency, for alleged handover of sensitive information to the Czech special services, Peskov mentioned another incident: the demolition of the monument to Soviet marshal Ivan Konev in Prague.
“Recently, our relations with the Czech Republic have been marred by certain events and certain unfriendly steps taken by the municipal and Czech government,” Peskov noted. “This has had a negative effect on the general state of our bilateral relations, however, Russia calls for good relations with all countries, including the Czech Republic,” the Kremlin spokesman said.
Following reports from the Czech weekly Respekt, of a Russian plot to assassinate two political figures in Prague using ricin, PM Andrej Babiš (ANO) said that the Czech Republic “is a sovereign state, and we would certainly not let any of the world’s powers to influence our political affairs in any way.”
“It is impossible – if true – for some foreign country to take some actions here against our citizens,” Babis added.
The Mayor of Prague Hřib approved the renaming of a square where the Russian Embassy is located after slain Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov.
The Russian Embassy is now having to use its consulate address on all of its correspondence, to avoid using the new name of the square.
A few weeks later, Prague’s District 6 council removed the statue of Ivan Stepanovic Konev, a World War II commander, whose statue was erected in 1980.
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has called the removal of the statue “a crime”.
“It looks like another hoax,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday when asked about the Respekt report.
The Russian embassy in Prague protested the Respekt report in a statement on Monday and did not respond to questions on Tuesday.
Babiš also said that the Czech diplomacy is currently dealing with instances of hostility at the Czech embassies in Moscow and St. Petersburg in recent weeks.
Czech President Miloš Zeman will attend celebrations marking the 75th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s Victory over Nazi Germany, which was scheduled to take place on May 9 but had to be postponed due to the coronavirus, as Zeman himself told Radio Frekvence 1 on Sunday.
“I accepted President Putin’s invitation,” Zeman pointed out. “I suppose that the celebrations will take place in September instead of May 9.
“It would be logical because World War II ended in September, and it was the war in Europe that came to an end on May 9,” he added.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Thursday that the Victory Day parade and the Immortal Regiment march, initially set for May 9, would take place later in the year after the coronavirus threat is over.
The “risks associated with the epidemic, whose peak has not passed yet, are extremely high,” Putin said. “This does not give me the right to begin preparations for the parade and other mass events now.”
Victory Day is the most important public event remaining in Russia’s calendar. Western leaders have snubbed the parade since 2014, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. Moscow’s alleged meddling in the US presidential elections and the poisoning of Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in 2018 have made relations even chillier.
Russia holds a military parade on Red Square with soldiers, tanks and intercontinental ballistic missiles and sees hundreds of thousands march with pictures of their relatives in a new tradition called the Immortal Regiment.
The number of Russian coronavirus cases has been accelerating in the last week.
There have been 47,121 cases of infections and 405 deaths, according to official figures, but the real number is believed to be higher.
The Public Council at the Russian Ministry of Defense proposed renaming the Prazhskaya metro station to Marshal Konev station.
A letter requesting support for this initiative was sent to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. According to members of the Public Council, it would be the right response to the dismantling of Marshal Konev monument in Prague.
On April 3, the Soviet general’s statue in Prague was removed by a local council, prompting protest from Moscow. Ivan Konev led the liberation of the Czech capital in 1945, but many Czechs criticize his crackdowns after World War II.
Local Prague politician Ondrej Kolar declared: “Konev has been toppled, but Konev will stand again — only in the museum.”
Czech President Milos Zeman slammed the statute’s removal, accusing Kolar’s council of abusing the current coronavirus crisis, according to a presidential spokesperson.
Moscow has vehemently protested the removal of the statue.
The local council’s removal decision prompted an expression of indignation from the Russian Foreign Ministry, which on Friday spoke of an “unfriendly” act of “vandalism by unhinged municipal representatives.”
On April 9, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu asked his Czech counterpart, Lubomir Metnar, to hand over the statue to Russia. Metnar refused, saying it belonged to the city of Prague.
Authorities in the northwestern Bubeneč district announced that they can no longer keep cleaning the monument to Marshal Ivan Konev after continuous acts of vandalism against it, so they decided to cover it with a tarpaulin.
The move, announced by the mayor of Prague 6, Ondrej Kolar, caused an immediate backlash. Several dozen people protested against the decision on Monday at the statue’s location, including the Czech president’s spokesman Jiri Ovčaček.
“We have different opinions and we choose different political parties, but one thing connects us, we reject the rewriting of history and we reject people who trample on the values of democracy,” Ovčaček said in a speech.
He was one of the multiple Czechs protesting the covering-up as it happened. He posted a photo of him bowing his head before Konev’s statue on his Twitter account, calling him “liberator of the Czech Republic and of the Auschwitz death camp.”
The Russian Embassy condemned the timing of Kolar’s decision, made “in the run-up to the 80th anniversary of the most horrific military conflict in human history.” The embassy claimed it has received numerous letters from Czech citizens denouncing this move, with some “wondering which side would the incumbent municipal government of Prague 6 district support during World War Two.”
While the embassy did not provide specific examples of the letters, denunciation of the act from the Czech general public was evident. A man named Jiri Cernohorsky, described as “anti-immigration activist and supporter of the Russian Federation” removed the cover in protest on Friday and again during the Monday protest, and was reportedly apprehended by police for that.
In response to criticism, district boss Ondrej Kolar said the Konev statue is targeted for vandalism at least twice a year. He believes this illustrates the district population’s negative attitude towards Konev and called those gathered for Monday’s protest “extremists united by… a blind love for Russia.”
The monument to Konev was unveiled on May 9, 1980, the 35th anniversary of the liberation of Prague by the troops of the 1st Ukranian Front, commanded by Konev. While hailed as a WWII liberator, Konev’s post-war actions still spark controversy because of his role in the suppression of the Hungarian uprising in 1956 and the so-called Prague Spring of 1968.