The West’s tough sanctions on Russia have come in for criticism from the Czech president, Miloš Zeman, who argues that such measures do more harm than good. Mr. Zeman also says that he will push for EU compensation for Czech food producers affected by Moscow’s counter-sanctions.
The European Union and the United States intensified sanctions against Moscow in the wake of the shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines plane over part of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian rebels last month.
Mr. Zeman, who is seen as having a relatively positive attitude to Moscow, told Czech TV he was opposed to sanctions in general.
Always fond of an anecdote, the president illustrated his position by recalling a lecture he’d given to Cuban immigrants in Miami 15 years ago. For 40 years, he told his audience, Cuba has been under embargo – and for 40 years Fidel Castro has been the country’s president.
“This example shows that all sanctions are nonsensical and ineffective. Secondly, they lead to counter-sanctions, completely logically. This leads to a kind of spiral that worsens economic relations and achieves nothing. On the contrary, it deepens distrust between states.”
Russia swiftly retaliated to the ramped-up sanctions with a total ban on the import of a number of basic foodstuffs from the EU and the United States.
Czech producers are among those hurt by the move and the president on Wednesday echoed an earlier call from Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka for compensation from Brussels.
“I think that within the framework of the Common Agricultural Policy it is possible to get certain compensation. There are reserve funds. I would therefore intercede, because [Czech firms] Hamé and Madeta are definitely not to blame for the fact that the European Union announced sanctions and Russia announced counter-sanctions.”
Mr. Zeman also took a swipe at past efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis. These had failed, he said, because the EU was incapable in this regard.
He offered the example of a truce brokered by three EU foreign ministers that lasted a mere 24 hours. This was because, he said, they had been unable to compel Maidan demonstrators in Kiev, including “fascists”, to adhere to it.
With regard to a Russian convoy carrying humanitarian aid to Ukraine that the latter has called a “Trojan horse” and pledged to halt at the border, Mr. Zeman said the best thing would be if Moscow, the US and the EU were to jointly deliver such assistance.