It is worth observing what is currently taking place on the Prague–Moscow axis. Recent events have revealed the approach of Russian authorities towards countries from our region, which is in sharp contrast to its approach to big Western European players such as France and Germany.
As a reminder, on Saturday, the Czech Minister of the Interior Jan Hamacek, who is also responsible for Czechia’s foreign ministry, along with Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, indicated that the explosions in the IMEX ammo depots in 2014 which cost the lives of two people were not the result of neglect as it was believed.
Instead, the explosions were conducted by agents from the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU).
For now, it is important to focus on the diplomatic game being carried out. Prague announced the expulsion of 18 Russian diplomats. Moreover, Hamacek’s visit to Moscow, planned for Monday, was canceled. The aim of this visit was to sign a contract for the purchase of Russian Sputnik V vaccines, which in addition to the declared readiness of the Czech government to quickly make them accessible, was to be a great success of Russian “vaccine diplomacy” in the EU.
This PR success was needed for Moscow, especially following the scandal in Slovakia where authorities responsible for permitting medicine onto the local market declared that the Sputnik V they received was not a formula described by international medical journals. Russia returned Slovakia the money from the purchase which means that they acknowledged the complaint.
Now, Moscow is short on successful victories to point to. The Czech Minister of Economy Karel Havlicek stated that the Russian Rosatom will most likely be excluded from participating in a tender for a contract worth $7.6 billion concerning developing the Czech nuclear power plant in Dukovany.
Russia’s reaction to Prague’s decision was extremely aggressive. On Monday, the Czech ambassador to Moscow was given a notice which demanded the expulsion of 20 of the embassy’s staff. According to Czech commentators, given that the Czech embassy in Moscow is not a large one, this essentially will lead to its paralysis.
Russians feels completely impudent in our region. Not only did they turn their embassy in Prague into a center for the operations of special services (which wasn’t a secret as former Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius wrote about it openly), the Russians also believe this to be an example of normal activity for a regional power.
The acceptance of this state of affairs would equal the permission for double standards — one kind for “Old Europe” and another for our region. Former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves wrote that given recent events, it could be wise to suspend handing out European state visas to Russian citizens wanting to enter the EU, barring extraordinary circumstances.
Unfortunately, it is doubtful that this proposal would be regarded with enthusiasm in Western Europe, although President Macron recently proposed in an interview for CBS for the West to draw ‘red lines’ whose crossing by Russia should result in sanctions.
The issue, which Paris doesn’t seem to notice, is that the credibility of French policy in this regard in our part of Europe is equal to zero and no one sensible will agree to French “red lines”.