Czech of­fi­cial breaks with West on Rus­sia

Pres­i­dent Mi­los Ze­man plans to at­tend a Moscow pa­rade and crit­i­cizes U.S. en­voy’s dis­ap­prov­ing tweet.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Carol J. Wil­liams carol.wil­liams@la­times.com

Czech Pres­i­dent Mi­los Ze­man has stirred crit­i­cism within his Prague lead­er­ship, di­vided the Euro­pean Union, made iso­lated Rus­sians glee­ful and led to the U.S. am­bas­sador to the Czech Repub­lic be­ing banned from Prague Cas­tle.

The up­roar, in a coun­try once dom­i­nated by the Soviet Union, stems from Ze­man’s plans to at­tend a May 9 Victory Day pa­rade in Moscow.

Most West­ern lead­ers have sent their re­grets to Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s in­vi­ta­tions for cel­e­bra­tion of the 70th an­niver­sary of the Al­lied de­feat of Nazi Ger­many. Their re­sponses amounted to a uni­fied rep­ri­mand of Rus­sia’s seizure of Crimea last year and its sup­port for sep­a­ratist rebels oc­cu­py­ing eastern Ukraine. Al­most uni­fied. Ze­man, whose post is sup­posed to be cer­e­mo­nial and re­moved from for­eign pol­icy de­ci­sions, has bolted from the West­ern pack and an­nounced that he will at­tend the Red Square pa­rade to honor the mem­ory of Soviet sol­diers who lib­er­ated Cze­choslo­vakia from the Nazis.

That de­ci­sion prompted U.S. Am­bas­sador An­drew Schapiro to ob­serve via Twit­ter that Ze­man’s pres­ence at the pa­rade might prove “awk­ward,” as he will be the only head of state from the 28-na­tion Euro­pean Union in at­ten­dance. He will be in the com­pany of the lead­ers of China, North Korea, Ser­bia and other states not yet emerg­ing from com­mu­nist rule.

Ze­man re­acted to Schapiro’s tweet with fury.

“I can’t imag­ine the Czech am­bas­sador in Wash­ing­ton would give ad­vice to the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent where to travel,” Ze­man told the on­line news site Par­la­mentni Listy. “I won’t let any am­bas­sador have a say about my for­eign trav­els.... I am afraid that af­ter the state­ment, Schapiro’s door to the Prague Cas­tle is closed.”

Czech gov­ern­ment lead­ers, who have stood with their Euro­pean Union al­lies on sanc­tions against Rus­sia and re­frained from high­level vis­its to Moscow, were quick to dis­tance them­selves from the pres­i­dent.

Prime Min­is­ter Bo­huslav Sobotka told Ceska Tele­vize on Mon­day that it was “un­suit­able” for Ze­man to bar Schapiro from the cas­tle and said he wished the pres­i­dent’s at­ti­tude to­ward for­eign pol­icy would be “a bit more pro­fes­sional.”

For­eign Min­is­ter Lubomir Zao­ralek tweeted Tues­day that “the pres­i­dent’s words are un­for­tu­nate and not very diplo­matic,” and crit­i­cized his “closing doors” on al­lied en­voys.

Rus­sian news me­dia have re­ported on the spat with cheers for Ze­man’s de­fi­ance and glee­ful procla­ma­tions of an end to U.S. power in Eastern Europe.

“The loy­alty to the le­gacy of Soviet troops who died in their fight against fas­cism does credit to Ze­man,” Kon­stantin Dol­gov, the head of the Rus­sian For­eign Min­istry’s hu­man rights com­mis­sion, told jour­nal­ists in Moscow.

“A Euro­pean head of state has de­cided to stand up to Amer­i­can bul­ly­ing,” Rus­sia To­day tele­vi­sion said in a com­men­tary that cast U.S. diplo­matic post­ings as sinecures is­sued in re­ward for cam­paign fundrais­ers who help put a pres­i­dent in the White House.

Lead­ers of the United States, France and Bri­tain at­tended pre­vi­ous land­mark an­niver­saries of the World War II victory, in honor of the shared ac­com­plish­ment with the Soviet Union and the mil­lions of Soviet lives lost in turn­ing back the Nazi scourge.

This year, though, Pres­i­dent Obama, Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron, Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel and the pres­i­dents of Lithua­nia, Latvia, Es­to­nia and Poland have de­clined to at­tend in protest of Rus­sia’s ag­gres­sion against Ukraine.

Cliff Owen As­so­ci­ated Press

OTHER CZECH off icials have dis­tanced them­selves from Pres­i­dent Mi­los Ze­man.

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