The stage is set for a resumption of Russian natural gas supplies to Europe after shuttle diplomacy by the Czech prime minister Mirek Topolánek secured both sides’ agreement to a deal on deploying international monitors as a means of preventing foul play in the transit system. Russia put its signature to the agreement on Saturday, Ukraine on Sunday. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said supplies to Europe could begin immediately after monitoring began, but it could take up to three days to restore gas supplies to full volume across Europe. Prime Minister Topolánek said deployment of the monitoring team would take no more than a few of hours. A raging pricing and payment dispute between Moscow and Kiev resulted in a complete halt of supplies to Europe last Wednesday, sparking a serious energy crisis in states that are fully dependent on Russian natural gas.
Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, on Sunday refused to denounce Slovakia's decision to relaunch an ageing Soviet-era nuclear reactor saying that he saw it as a decision made in an emergency, when the country was threatened by a looming blackout. The Czech prime minister said that the gravity of the crisis showed how badly Europe needed mechanisms to ensure energy security, stressing that it was one of the Czech presidency's top priorities.
Over thirty Czech soldiers left for Afghanistan on Sunday where they are to join the Czech military contingent tasked with protecting Camp Haridan in Uruzgan province. The Czech military contingent is to remain there until the end of March when they are to be replaced by Slovak troops. However the future of all 400 Czech troops in Afghanistan is now hanging in the balance after Parliament rejected a bill on the army’s foreign missions in 2009. Their mandate in the country was temporarily extended by the government and a new vote is expected in the lower house shortly. The government has had to cut back on plans to extend the country’s forces abroad, promising to cut back on the number of troops serving in ISAF and to end Czech participation in the US-led operation Enduring Freedom by the end of the year.
Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has hinted that a planned cabinet
reshuffle might not happen, saying that the EU presidency had presented him
with far more important priorities. In an interview for Czech television on
Sunday the prime minister told journalists that the reshuffle was
complicated by the need to get on with the business at hand and admitted
that he should have made changes in the cabinet ahead of the EU presidency,
ideally immediately after the coalitions poor showing in October’s
regional and Senate elections.
The planned reshuffle is being complicated by the Christian Democratic Party, which has been unable to agree on which of its ministers should leave the government. Following a heated dispute over whether it should be party leader and Local Development Minister Jiří Čunek or Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek, the Christian Democrat leadership changed tack on Saturday, insisting that both men be allowed to remain in the cabinet. The prime minister who has his own ideas about who he wants to replace, but is bound by a coalition agreement to debate the matter with his partners. If the prime minister were to force the Christian Democrats’ hand over this the party could walk out and bring down the government.
Meanwhile, the Green Party of the ruling coalition would like to see the reshuffle take place. Party leader Martin Bursík said on Sunday that the party proposed replacing the minister for human rights, Džamila Stehlikova, with rock musician and former MP Michal Kocáb.
Some 200 people assembled on Prague’s Franz Kafka square on Sunday to demonstrate support for the Israeli military operation in Gaza, calling Hamas a terrorist organization which used women and children as live shields. The gathering was disrupted when some thirty pro-Palestinian activists appeared on the scene shouting anti-Israeli slogans but a cordon of police officers prevented any physical clashes between the two groups.
TV Barrandov, a new Czech commercial TV station, went on air on Sunday, promising viewers a mix of news and entertainment. It is to be financed primarily by sponsors and advertisement revenues, expected to total 50 million crowns in its first year. The launch of the station cost a billion crown and it is expected to start making a profit within three years.
Radek Štepánek of the Czech Republic upset Spain's Fernando Verdasco 3-6 6-3 6-4 on Sunday to claim the men's singles title at the inaugural Brisbane International. Verdasco looked to have the edge after winning the first set but Štepánek, who had won his quarter-final and semi-final after being a set down, clawed back to win in three. The victory provided the 30-year-old Štepánek with his third ATP title after his previous wins at Rotterdam in 2006 and Los Angeles in 2007.
Russia and the European Union signed a deal on monitoring gas supplies through Ukraine, after talks between Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Saturday. Representing the EU presidency, the Czech leader said he would travel on to Kiev to ask the Ukrainian side to also sign up to the agreement, aimed at ending a dispute which has lead to the worst ever disruption of Russian gas supplies to Europe. Mr Topolánek, who was in Kiev on Friday, said he would remain in the region as long as needed to ensure that gas is again pumped to Europe.
Speaking about the gas supply crisis, the Czech industry minister, Martin Říman, told the news website novinky.cz that even during the cold war the Soviet Union had not toyed with western Europe in such a manner. He said previous talk on improving energy security had been somewhat academic and it was now time to begin concrete projects to ensure energy security.