At an emergency summit in Brussels on Thursday EU leaders suspended talks on visa-free travel with Russia and threatened far-reaching action should Moscow take further steps to destabilize Ukraine. The decision followed tough negotiations among member states, divided over how to react to the Russian aggression, and revealed the measure to which Europe’s hands are tied by its dependence on Russian crude oil and gas. Jakub Janda from the Prague-based European Values think tank says the decision was predictable since Europe itself would feel the backlash from stiffer sanctions.
“Europe is tied down by its economic dependence on Russia because 32 percent of European gas supplies come from Russia and as regards the Czech Republic a full 58 percent of the country’s oil supplies come from Russia. We are very much interconnected and that is one of the reasons why the EU’s reaction was what some would call “pretty soft” compared to that of the US.”
How would you asses the Czech government’s stand in this respect?
“Well, the Czech government was, I think, pretty much in the mainstream of EU member states on this. The Czech prime minister said he was open to discussion on how the EU should react to the Russian aggression…"
But the Czech Republic was strongly in favour of “soft diplomacy” so to speak, pushing for a diplomatic solution and diplomatic pressure rather than economic sanctions…
“That’s right. The Czech prime minister said he was very much against economic sanctions since – and I quote – he did not see what benefit they would bring, how the unemployed could benefit from the introduction of sanctions against Russia. But you have to add that the British prime minister was pretty much in the same boat on this. There is no support for sanctions in Europe at this stage because everybody is interconnected with Russia and the European governments are not really willing to go that far right now.”
The Czech government promised a more coordinated foreign policy when it took office but yesterday another spat broke out between the head of state and the PM over whether human rights should take a back seat to economic interests. Will the government be able to deliver on its promise in view of this obvious conflict?
“Well, that is a drawn-out controversy between two ideological parties. One is very pragmatic – you can see the Czech head of state right now in that group – and we witnessed the same discussion in the previous government. There will most likely be many more arguments in the future over whether we should prioritize human rights over economic interests since the members of this government are not in the same boat on this. As we said, the prime minister was against economic sanctions, while the foreign minister voiced some strong opinions regarding what was going on in Crimea and he came under fire from members of his own party for that.”
The Czech prime minister said yesterday that support for human rights issues and support for trade could go hand-in-hand. Would you agree with that?
“Yes, and we should note that the Czech finance minister said that one has to distinguish between economics and politics which is pretty much impossible in this world. Nobody does that, with the exception of the Russians sometimes or the economic powers. There is of course the question of how the Czech Republic wants to be seen –whether it wants to pursue the values laid down by Václav Havel, defense of human rights in an international context and so on. If we look at the debate underway here now then one could say we are moving away from this value-based foreign policy, so we shall have to wait and see how things develop.”