Prime minister reviews Foreign Ministry, outlines stance on Russia and tragedy in Ukraine

Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka on Monday continued his tour of government ministries, this time focusing on Černín Palace and results over the last half year by the country’s foreign minister, Lubomír Zaorálek. Mr Sobotka and the foreign minister discussed economic diplomacy as well as developments in Israel and in eastern Ukraine.

Lubomír Zaorálek, photo: Filip JandourekLubomír Zaorálek, photo: Filip Jandourek On Monday, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka had words of praise for Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek, saying that the latter had gotten off to a good start during a period of growing instability, namely the conflict in Ukraine as well as the clash in the Gaza Strip. In the view of the prime minister, Czech foreign policy was now more streamlined than in the past, which he saw as a success given the challenges faced by the ministry from day one. Foreign Minister Zaorálek himself maintained that communication domestically had improved, which in turn allowed the country to better present its image abroad:

“I would call the approach now a ‘de-freezing’ of conditions… We managed to thaw out and improve relations between the PM, president and foreign minister… which allowed us to present a united policy abroad. And we improved relations for example with key countries such as China, and are trying to improve relations with others through planned events, such as Forum 16+1 in August.”

The forum will provide an opportunity for Central European and Balkan countries to attract Chinese investment.

Crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, Ukraine, July 19, 2014, photo: CTKCrash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, Ukraine, July 19, 2014, photo: CTK The visit by the prime minister at the ministry preceded by one day a key meeting of EU foreign ministers to discuss the situation in Ukraine and a possible increase of sanctions against Russia. Both the foreign minister and Prime Minister Sobotka were asked about the Czech stance, not least in the wake of the Malaysia Flight 17 tragedy. Last week, 298 people lost their lives after the commercial jetliner was allegedly shot down, possibly by rebels using a Soviet-era BUK missile system. Here’s what Mr Sobotka had to say:

“At the EU level we have many times appealed to Russia and the message has not changed, only the urgency, not least in the light of the tragedy in which a plane was apparently shot down and almost 300 innocent people died. It is clear the appeal must be for Russia to stop arming separatists in Ukraine. Without Russian weapons, without Russian training, without Russian instructors, the separatists wouldn’t be able to operate the way they have been and such tragic developments would not be taking place in eastern Ukraine.”

Bohuslav Sobotka, photo: Kristýna MakováBohuslav Sobotka, photo: Kristýna Maková Overall, the prime minister made clear he and Mr Zaorálek were on the same page when it came to foreign policy and the prime minister even found time in Monday’s press conference to dismiss a story by Czech daily Lidové noviny which suggested that there would be a personnel shake-up at the ministry regarding close aides, saying cuttingly he had not once been contacted about the story, implying it was speculative at best; it was a quiet dig as well: Lidové noviny, as is well-known, is owned by fellow government coalition leader Finance Minister Andrej Babiš

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