At NATO summit, Czech president says conflict in Ukraine is little more than a civil war because there are fewer Russian troops than in 1968 Czechoslovakia
Prague, Sept. 5 (ČTK) — Czech President Miloš Zeman considers the conflict in Ukraine to be a civil war, not a Russian invasion, he told radio station Frekvence 1 Wednesday and added he believes Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying there are no Russian soldiers in Ukraine.
“If you mean a civil war in Ukraine, it is first of all necessary to call it with its proper name and say honestly that it is really a civil war. Naturally, it can develop into a Russian invasion, but at this stage, it is a civil war between two groups of Ukrainian inhabitants,” Zeman said in the Pressklub program to be broadcast Sunday.
His words are at sharp odds with the statements by NATO leaders, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka (Social Democrats, ČSSD) and Defense Minister Martin Stropnický (ANO), who said some 5,000 Russian soldiers are fighting in the east of Ukraine as far as he is informed.
The stance of Zeman, who spoke similarly at the NATO summit in Wales Thursday, was indirectly criticized by Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt.
Bildt said Zeman could ask the Czech intelligence service about the issue.
Zeman told Frekvence 1 that during the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, the country was occupied by 150,000 Russian soldiers in the first wave, which is an invasion army.
“Until now, it has not been proved that there is a Russian invasion military in Ukraine, and I am serious about Foreign Minister Lavrov’s statement that there are not Russian soldiers there,” Zeman said.
Lavrov has long denied the presence of Russian soldiers in Crimea, which Russia eventually occupied.
Zeman repeated his stance on tightening the sanctions against Russia. He said sanctions would be necessary if there were a real Russian invasion, but not in other cases.
Generally, Zeman rejects sanctions as a way to solve conflicts.
In connection with Ukraine in the past, he has pushed for the most frequent exchange of businesspeople and tourists and also for a change of the system from inside by democratic and legal means.
In the interview, Zeman regretted that Ukraine is destroying its industrial potential on its own and creating great distance between the Russian-language and Ukrainian-language populations.
He said he is afraid it will take decades to remove the consequences of the conflict.
Zeman said he is convinced the emergence of the Islamic State is at least as dangerous as Russia’s imperial ambitions, and
He said he is trying to persuade Czech Foreign Affairs Minister Lubomír Zaorálek (ČSSD) of the threat of Islamic expansionism.