Czech and Swedish defence ministry officials signed an addendum on Friday to an existing contract renewing the lease of 14 Gripen fighter jets to the Czech Republic until 2027, with an extra two-year option. The contract was signed at the air base in Čáslav, east of Prague. From 2015 to 2027 the Czech government will pay 21.4 billion crowns for the supersonic planes; the yearly lease is will one-third lower than it was until now. The Czech Defence Minister, Martin Stropnický, called the deal a fair one.
The current crisis in Ukraine represents a serious security risk for both the European Union and NATO, the Czech Defense Minister Martin Stopnický has said. Speaking at a meeting in Bratislava, he stressed it would be necessary to increase defense spending; he also made clear he strongly supported increased military cooperation by the Visegrad countries, backing a plan to form a joint combat unit of up to 4,000 soldiers by 2016. Earlier this week, the defense minister caused a major stir at home when he suggested NATO troops might be less than welcome on Czech soil, especially by those who still remembered the historic occupation of Czechoslovakia by Soviet troops. Mr Stropnický came under fire from the opposition as well as members of the government and was forced to backtrack. He put forward a declaration in the lower house emphasising the Czech Republic’s commitment to NATO and common defense.
Czech prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka has called a meeting of the State Security Council on May 20. The meeting will focus on the Czech Republic’s ability to cover its natural gas needs and help out near neighbours Slovakia and Hungary if Russian gas supplies are halted. Fears that Russian supplies to central and western Europe could be cut in June if Ukraine does not pay its debts for past deliveries were raised at a security conference in Bratislava by Slovak prime minister Robert Fico. Fico cited a warning letter from Russian president Vladimir Putin. Russia has said the warning applies to gas exports to Ukraine and not the rest of Europe.
In related news, a potential halt of supplies of natural gas from Russia via Ukraine does not pose a direct threat for the Czech Republic as there are other supply routes, President Miloš Zeman said at the end of his three-day visit to the Plzeň region on Friday. According to Zeman, the Czech Republic has full reserves as well as the possibility to use alternative routes of gas supplies, citing the Nord Stream, Gazela and Ingolstadt pipelines. The president also expressed the view that the Ukraine crisis would not last overly long.
Czech lobbyist and businessman Ivo Rittig has been identified as the main paymaster in the scandal surrounding former prime ministerial aide Jana Nagyová and attempts to sideline Civic Democrat (ODS) party rebels, the daily Mladá Fronta Dnes reported on Friday. The paper said the main players and events in the scandal which brought down the centre-right government of Petr Nečas in June 2013 have been outlined by the state prosecutor in the case. Rittig is described as being ready to pay millions of crowns to three ODS rebels ready to bring down the government in a rebellion over tax changes. Rittig was also paying Nagyová, according to the prosecution dossier. Nagyová’s alleged misuse of the state security system to spy on the prime minister’s wife sparked the government’s fall. She later married Nečas.
Police have charged three people from the Czech Export Bank in connection with the financing of a construction project in Tunisia, Lidové noviny reported Friday, citing the High State Attorney’s Office in Prague. The bank provided 331 million crowns in financing to a Tunisian investor, M.F.M., to develop hundreds of new luxury apartments in Tunisia, to be built by the Czech firm PSJ. The project stalled as a result of technical problems as well as changes under the Arab Spring. After it halted financing, the Czech Export Bank discovered it had none of the usual guarantees or collateral. According to Lidové noviny, PSJ is to trying to salvage the project.
A new poll conducted by Herzmann and Data Collect suggests that if the elections to the European Parliament were held today, the Social Democrats, who head the current centre-left government, would finish third – behind fellow coalition partners ANO and centre-right opposition party TOP 09. Others who would see success include the Communists, newcomers Dawn, and the Civic Democrats. Herzmann and Data Collect conducted the poll between May 9 and 13, questioning more than 500 likely voters.
Strong winds and heavy rainfall in the Czech Republic have caused extensive damage to forestland belonging to the state-owned forestry firm Lesy ČR, affecting an estimated 150,000 cubic metres of wood. The amount represents 2 percent of wood felled annually in state forests. Forests in the areas of Moravia-Silesia, Zlín and Olomouc were the hardest hit, Lesy ČR has revealed. The financial cost has not yet been tabulated.
The Institute for Clinical and Experimental Medicine (IKEM), based in Prague, has completed a study suggesting that fewer meals per day could benefit some diabetes sufferers, going against conventional wisdom regarding the disease. Under the study, the institute found that only two meals per day, compared to the six small servings recommended now, had positive results. Those tested had gotten diabetes after failing to lose weight and to foster better eating habits and a healthy lifestyle. In all, 54 patients, in two groups, took part in the study. A representative from the diabetes clinic told the Czech News Agency that the recommendation of six small servings remains unchanged; other studies will have to be undertaken to confirm or counter the IKEM findings.
The Czech national hockey team, backstopped by goalie Alexander Salák, will face Denmark and Norway at the ice hockey worlds at the weekend. Both matches are crucial to clinching a spot in the quarterfinals. Questions remain about who will get the start in offence, as members of the team have been hit by stomach flu or have come down with colds. Tomáš Hertl, Jiří Hudler and Vladimír Sobotka are all doubtful for the next match. The Czech squad is currently third in Group A, behind Sweden and Canada.