Thursday, November 6, 2014

Czech Fears Escalation with Russia

By: Caroline James
Produced & Edited By: Megan Laird 

Intricate architecture and eighteen bridges cross over the Vlatava River that cuts through the middle of Prague. Lauded as one of the most beautiful sites in the world, the ornate Charles Bridge gives a view of the ‘City of 100 Spires’ and one of the most historical sites in Europe. However, when Prague was accidentally bombed in 1945 by an American air raid, the sights from the Charles Bridge filled with smoke and flame. 
© Courtesy of Caroline James
After German occupation in World War II, the Czech Republic shed its communist government and now holds claim to the highest standard of living of any former Soviet block country. It’s capital city, Prague, has the highest GDP of any European Union member, with the exception of Luxemburg. 

But the Prague Post says that war is still in the minds of Czech citizens. In a poll released by the Median agency in August of 2014, it stated that 46 percent of Czech citizens fear that armed conflicts may escalate and threaten the Czech Republic. The poll also found that citizens consider the Russia/Ukraine conflict to be the biggest current risk to the Czech Republic.

In the aftermath of the Ukrainian Revolution of 2014, conflict erupted with demonstrations and riots by pro-Russian and anti-United Nations groups. Russia attempted to annex Crimea and deployed troops to the area. Conflicts in Donetsk and Luhansk provinces have since led to an armed separatist movement. In response to these insurgents, the Ukrainian government launched a military counter-offensive that has resulted in the current War in Donbass.

In an article by České Noviny, Czech Foreign Minister, Lubomir Zaoralek, and Polish Foreign Minister, Grzegorz Schetyna, announced that sanctions against Russia for their actions with Ukraine are necessary.

"We will actively stand up against all the violations of international commitments by Russia,” Schetyna said. Vanesa Šandová, Head of the Press office for the Government of the Czech Republic, said the conflict in Ukraine can only be solved through political processes and that a military solution cannot be viable. 

The Czech government is also seeking to improve political and economic relations with Russia despite recent disputes.

“Regrettably, in recent months Russia has not been acting as a responsible and reliable partner.” Šandová said.  “It is up to Russia to open the way for a political solution to the crisis in Ukraine without further loss of lives and damage caused to Russia's position in the international community.”
© Courtesy of Caroline James
Because the Czech Republic belongs to the European Union it has to function under the rules and regulations that have been set forth by the many western countries. Czech citizens have felt both the benefits and drawbacks to being part of the international organization.

“I absolutely resent the EU's expansionist policy they've been practicing for quite a while now, which has put us into the spotlight in this matter.” Pavel, a resident of Prague, said.

The Czech Republic also faces economic concerns with the conflict in Ukraine because of the natural gas and fuel supplies it receives from Russia, the pipelines of which are routed through Ukraine. Recently, the Temelin nuclear plant has reported that, if cut off from Russian resources, the already stocked fuel would last one year. 
Kynčl Miroslav of the Ministry of Industry and Trade said that scenarios for loss of fuel from Russia have already been planned out. Other liquid fuels, such as oil, that are supplied to the Czech market via Russia, can be fully supplied from other sources; however, this is not the case with natural gas.
“In case of total interruption of natural gas supplies there are a capacity of underground storages in the Czech Republic available,” Miroslav said. “However, it will be necessary to apply limiting regulatory levels, including purchase of natural gas from non-Russian sources.”
Petr Poláček, an Olomouc Resident believes that even with alternative sources, the loss of Russian resources would have a large negative impact on Czech citizens.

“[Alternative sources] would take time to negotiate, the transport would be extremely slow and the prices would skyrocket,” Poláček said. “The impact on our economy would be devastating.” 
© Courtesy of Caroline James
However some citizens doubt the likelihood of Russia cutting off fuel supply. Pavel said that the Russian economy depends too much on exporting their resources for this tactic to be a viable option. “This is something Russia simply cannot afford to do.” Pavel said. 

The Czech Government recently promised to increase military spending to 1.4% by 2020. While some people think that this increase is a result of the conflict in Ukraine, Šandová says that this increase is meant to comply with NATO commitments of maintaining an adequate level of defense spending.

“The purpose of this move is to stabilize the defense budget and secure favorable conditions for further development of Czech armed forces so that the Czech Republic is also in the future able to fulfill its commitments within the NATO,” Šandová said.

While Šandová says that energy security is one of the priorities for the Czech Republic, the Czech citizen’s concern over war with Russia is split. “People around me express their fear for the Muslim terrorism, ISIS etc. not Russia,” Pavel said.

Some Czechs resent the way NATO seems to be influencing their country’s foreign policy.

“Personally I am convinced there will be war and it won't be Russia who starts it,” Poláček said. “Unless NATO starts playing Kick the Rancor with, say, ISIS rather than Russia, it will only be a matter of time.”

While the conflict with Russia seems to have the Czech Republic on edge and the citizens wary, the view from the Charles Bridge remains, for the time being, serene. The country seems to be trying to manage the balance between avoiding armed conflict with Russia and honoring their political commitments.

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