As Vladimir Putin annexes four Ukrainian provinces, representing 15 percent of Ukraine’s territory, the Czech Republic’s Minister for European Affairs Mikulas Bek told FRANCE 24 that this is “totally unacceptable… the EU cannot step down from our support for Ukraine”. After former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev declared earlier this week that Russia had the right to defend itself with nuclear weapons, Bek responded that if that did happen, “it would mean a total change in modern history, and would have heavy consequences even for present allies of Russia or neutral countries, which would be forced to take a position”.
The Czech minister went on to urge “prudence” from NATO, saying “we should not provoke Russia verbally, but we have to be ready for all possibilities”.
Asked about the latest round of EU sanctions against Russia that are in preparation, Bek asserted that “in time the sanctions will decrease the capacity of Russia to continue the war, so that’s important. But it’s not a short-term measure”.
The Czech Republic was the first EU state to ban Russians from entering its territory on tourist visas. Now, as Finland shuts its border to Russian tourists, the minister urged fellow EU states to follow suit, while maintaining the possibility for Russian opposition figures to claim asylum.
“We support any members of the opposition in Russia… I think it’s quite clear that tourism has no direct influence on the minds of Russians, because for thirty years they travelled a lot to Europe and still the government of Vladimir Putin has quite strong support among Russians.”
And as European states continue to investigate the undersea explosions that left several punctures in the Russian-owned Nord Stream gas pipelines, Bek refused to point the finger of blame at any particular state or entity. He added that he sees the damage as part of a broad spectrum of attacks against the West: “It’s quite clear the mixture of instruments used by our opponents is very broad but we have learned quite a lot over the last couple of months, so we get better at defending ourselves.”
“What’s important is that NATO is united at this stage – and that’s an important message for Russia,” he concluded.
Programme produced by Sophie Samaille, Perrine Desplats and Isabelle Romero