Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has come under fire from members of the centre-right opposition as well as from within the coalition government, for withholding full support for a new wave of planned EU sanctions against Russia. At its summit on Saturday, the union issued a one-week ultimatum for Russia to reverse its course in Ukraine or face new consequences.
News last week that some 2,000 Russian military personnel had crossed Ukraine’s border to help separatist rebels in ongoing fighting, has provoked the EU and partners into considering a new wave of even tougher sanctions to try and get Russia – and the Putin regime – to step back. The question is whether members will present a unified stance when it comes to concrete measures. The Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka at the EU summit, for example, left the Czech Republic “an out”, by suggesting the country might not support all new sanctions if the potential economic impact proved disproportionately high. Here’s what he said a day later on a Czech TV debate show:
“I considered it my duty at the summit to bring up the question of whether the EU’s strategy is working. It’s not possible to only ramp up sanctions which will have an impact not only on Russia but also on the EU.”
Mr Sobotka has long advocated diplomacy to try and de-escalate the situation in Ukraine and he is hardly alone: the new EU High Representative Federica Mogherini, who replaces Catherine Ashton in December, herself has stressed the need for a lasting diplomatic deal with Russia. Others, though, remain firmly convinced diplomacy alone won’t be enough, that what is at stake is to show teeth fast to halt Mr Putin from further redrawing the map as he did with Crimea. On the Czech scene, for his statement, Mr Sobotka came under heavy criticism from the deputy leader of TOP 09 Miroslav Kalousek who called his approach “short-sighted” and “cowardly”. Even the Christian Democrats – a member of the ruling coalition – came out against, suggesting what was needed was a stronger moral stand. Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Bělobrádek compared the situation to Munich, 1938:
“We must not and cannot behave towards Ukraine like allies did to Czechoslovakia in the Munich Agreement and after… We can’t act like France or Great Britain did then… If your neighbour’s roof is on fire, you can’t stand by and not help. What is going on in Ukraine is war and in war you have to accept certain costs, such as economic sanctions.”
Mr Bělobrádek added the scenario playing out in Ukraine was all too familiar, similar to the ones seen in Georgia and Moldova and that it was time to say ‘Enough is enough’. The Czech government is to discuss Ukraine on Wednesday, while the centre-right opposition parties have called an extraordinary session of the lower house, where they have demanded the government explain its position on Russia and the Ukraine crisis.