Would you like to be today (in 2018, editor’s note) in the shoes of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic?
Look, it’s a profession I’ve enjoyed doing, and a person like a minister only works in very difficult situations. So even in this situation, when it’s really not easy, yes – I would be happy to be a minister.
Interview with former foreign minister Karl Schwarzenberg about the Novichok case and President Miloš Zeman. Hosted by Marie Bastlová.
And how would you handle such a situation (President Miloš Zeman stated after the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter that the nerve agent Novichok was being developed and tested in the Czech Republic, editor’s note) explained to our foreign allies?
I would clearly say to the foreign allies that the message that President Zeman is arbitrarily spreading to support Moscow is not entirely true. There is a whole group of these poisons, of course they are also studied here in minimal doses – we have a famous anti-chemical unit and they must know about all the poisons that are used in various armies, know the antidotes… So, of course, they also studied this group of poisons.
But that does not mean that it is produced here. That’s something completely different. And unfortunately, what the president said damaged the Czech Republic and served – and he was able to – the interests of Moscow and the Kremlin. After all, it was also triumphantly announced by the spokeswoman of the Russian Foreign Ministry. We have a head of state who works under a foreign power.
And do you think President Miloš Zeman did it on purpose?
Yes. He is a highly intelligent person. Although his inhibitions – as a result of his illness – are disappearing, he knows what he is doing.
So you weren’t even surprised?
Not at all. The moment he commissioned intelligence a few weeks ago to investigate whether Novichok was being produced here, I knew that one day he would come out with the news that something like that was going on here. That’s why he did it.
How important is President Miloš Zeman for Russian propaganda in this sense?
Important. After all, when the head of state declares something, it is taken seriously. And therefore it is sold in all media. People in the world have no idea who Miloš Zeman is. However, they note that the president of the Czech Republic admitted that novichok was produced in our country. This is the message that will permeate most of the world.
Is the role of Miloš Zeman’s statement greater in the context of propaganda directed inside Russia or in the context of propaganda directed outward to our Western allies?
In both. Of course it is for Vladimir Vladimirovich (Putin, Russian President, editor’s note) important for him to appear to the Russians as a great defender of Russian interests, who is slandered all over the world. And only a few brave ones, such as the Czech president, stand by his side and support this hero of Russian history.
This is always the case with dictatorships – we must remember that they are always working to maintain their own power. Therefore, the most important thing for them is their own population.
Karel Schwarzenberg died, the former foreign minister and chairman of TOP 09 was 85 years old
Read the article
You mentioned that the spokeswoman of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to Miloš Zeman’s words. However, I did not notice any reaction from the West. Did you get any reactions?
I haven’t heard of anything. Zeman is already known to our Western allies, like a purple dog in the village, and therefore they do not take him seriously. Whatever he says, they record with a smile. Sometimes they wink, but they don’t take it seriously.
By the way, the weekly Respekt published information that the president instructed the security services to investigate another case concerning the alleged hacker Yevgeni Nikulin, who was extradited to the USA. President Zeman pleaded to be extradited to Russia. What result do you expect here?
I think they will report how it went. That legally there is nothing to complain about. That it was of course also a political decision. And that the Minister of Justice acted in such a way that he rather accommodated our allies than the Russian Federation, who are certainly not our allies.
Czech pro-Russian policy?
If Miloš Zeman’s Novichok-type statements harm the interests of the Czech Republic and serve the interests of Russia, what should we do about it? How should the government, for example, coordinate policy with him so that there is no double-tracking here?
The government should make a clear statement – we are sorry, but the president of the republic does not defend our interests, he makes his own policy that suits his vanity and the Russian Federation. Do not take this as a statement from the Czech government. And we point out that Czech foreign policy is determined by the government, not the president.
Do you feel that pro-Russian views are getting stronger in Czech politics? I am referring, for example, to the meeting of MP Jaroslav Foldyna (formerly ČSSD, today SPD, editor’s note) with Russian bikers Night Wolves. Do you think this is ok?
I wouldn’t do it, but it’s not forbidden. Colleague Foldyn sometimes takes very extreme positions. He has been doing it all his life and it is his niche in Czech politics.
“It is a dangerous populism. Even more than that. It’s demagoguery. It would be the suicide of the Czech Republic.”
Karel Schwarzenberg (about proposals to withdraw from the EU and NATO)
Are pro-Russian voices strengthening in Czech politics?
I don’t know if they are reinforcing, but they are louder. Today, they are no longer inhibited by the fact that both pro-Russian parties take each other seriously in government negotiations. Whether they are communists or Freedom and Direct Democracy – these are pro-Putin parties, and when the government is discussed with them, it naturally strengthens them.
As a former minister of foreign affairs, how do you view the fact that topics such as the announcement of a referendum on leaving the EU or NATO enter a serious political debate?
This is dangerous populism. Even more than that. It’s demagoguery. It would be the suicide of the Czech Republic.
The erratic Putin
In Russia today (in May 2018, editor’s note) the inauguration of President Vladimir Putin took place. What do you expect his next term as president to bring?
Continuation of today’s politics. The only advantage of Russian politics is that it moves along known tracks, in a known direction. He will continue to pursue a revisionist policy to bring Russia closer to the status of the Soviet Union if possible. In the Middle East, Syria or the Caucasus, he will try to split the European Union and drive a wedge between the European states and the USA. He will continue with the politics he is already doing nowadays.
Schwarzenberg was flown to a hospital in Vienna. His health is not improving
Read the article
At one time I said to a Russian colleague: I would like to be the Russian foreign minister, because you have an advantage. Since the time of Nicholas I – which is 150 years – you have been doing the same policy all the time. Whether the Tsar, Stalin, Brezhnev or Putin rules there, it is always politics in the same direction. This is a certain constant, so even the diplomatic corps has a clear assignment. It has its advantages for Russia.
Do you think authoritarian tendencies will continue in Russian society?
Certainly. They will continue until it is no longer sustainable and the rule of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin ends. Until then, there will be some growing discontent, which I don’t blame him for. Every ruler who rules for a long time gets on people’s nerves slowly – that’s a known fact. But he has to keep the power and thus strengthen the autocracy.
And what could be the biggest risk for Vladimir Putin? The formation of the opposition or the economic situation?
The economic situation is a bigger danger because there is really a very bad situation there. Part of the fault of the politician Putin, who, in the days when Russia was making billions from oil and gas, put it into weapons instead of developing infrastructure and developing modern industry. They are in a very bad situation right now.
“He will continue to pursue a revisionist policy to bring Russia closer to the status of the Soviet Union if possible. In the Middle East, Syria or the Caucasus, he will try to split the European Union and drive a wedge between the European states and the USA. He will continue the politics he is already doing these days.”
Karel Schwarzenberg (about the politics of Vladimir Putin)
It’s his decision, his government. It is strange that Putin’s government is repeating the mistakes of the Tsarist government more than a century ago, which spent a lot of money on the military, discontent grew and ended in revolution.
You mentioned sanctions and their impact. Does it make sense to keep them?
Yes. They make sense and work. But before the sanction has a political result, it takes many years. For example, the Iranians have long been unwilling to sign an agreement on their nuclear research, even though the sanctions began decades ago. Only after the last sanctions, which were very harsh, did they proceed to negotiations. It will be the same with Russia.
How do you expect the development of Russia’s relations with the West? Some analysts even rate them as reminiscent of Cold War relations.
I would like them to go back to the Cold War, because if we look at Ukraine, it’s a hot war. People die there every day, there are shootings. And indeed – Russian actions in the West of the type (Novichok attack, editor’s note)they were not so common at the end of the Cold War.
The Soviet Union—dangerous though it was and we enjoyed enough of its dominance—was more careful in keeping agreements with its neighbors. Let’s look at the Soviet Union’s relationship with Finland and others… in some ways it was more reliable than Putin’s Russia.
Are you saying that relations between Russia and the West are worse than the Cold War?
Yes, because the relationship with Putin is less predictable. With Soviet politicians in recent years, it was possible to calculate quite well what their actions would be. That’s a little off now. Under the Soviet Union, there were two pillars of power – the party and the secret services. The party no longer exists, only the secret services controlled by Putin exist. Therefore, Putin has no opposition in his inner circle.
Listen to the full interview, the audio is at the top of the article.
Marie Bastlová, pik
Share on Facebook
Share on LinkedIn
Copy the url address
Copy to clipboard