Prague Castle welcomed Russian President Dmitry Medvedev with official honours on Thursday morning. Czech President Václav Klaus received his Russian counterpart late Wednesday evening at the Strahov Monastery. After bilateral talks regarding economic issues and a ceremonial luncheon, President Klaus expressed his support for good aspects of the Russian bid for the completion of the Temelín nuclear power plant, saying that it provided the most subcontracts for Czech business. The Russian President later met with Prime Minister Petr Nečas, with whom he then travelled to Brussels. Mr Medvedev also opened an exhibition of artworks from the Kremlin collections at Prague Castle.
Representatives of Czech and Russian businesses concluded contracts worth tens of billions of crowns at Prague Castle on Thursday, in the presence of their respective presidents. The main deal is for the construction of a 400km railway line in the Ural Mountains worth nearly 40 billion crowns. The work is to be done under the management of the Brno-based company OHL ŽS and will be co-financed by Czech and Russian banks. Czech companies also secured three other multi-billion crown projects for the construction of fossil-fuel power stations and a chemical factory. A declaration of partnership for modernisation was also concluded between Russia and the Czech Republic, following negotiations between their delegations Thursday afternoon.
President Klaus drew fire from political pundits after Thursday’s state visit for his refusal to comment on the situation surrounding recent Russian elections. Mr Klaus summed up the question marks over the elections process and the police crackdown on antiestablishment demonstrators as Russia’s internal issue, adding that he himself did not appreciate foreign commentaries on Czech domestic affairs. Political scientists contacted by the Czech Press Agency were wholly negative, with some suggesting it showed needless or even harmful favouritism. The European Union has openly criticised the election, while US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the poll was neither free nor fair. The Mr Klaus said he found the question as off the mark as asking Mr Medvedev what he thought of Wednesday’s teachers’ strike in the Czech Republic.
Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has criticised Russia’s recent parliamentary elections and the disproportionate use of force against protestors there. Speaking in Brussels, the foreign minister said the amount of objections to the elections was lamentable, as he had hoped that the days of Russia using force to influence elections were over. He welcomed the presence of Dmitri Medvedev in Prague and said it confirmed good relations between the countries, but said he would welcome more the news that Moscow was responding to the results of the elections more calmly and appropriately. If he had the chance to speak with Mr Medvedev, he said he would ask if he too does not find the crackdown disproportionate.
Just preceding the Russian President’s visit, Mr Schwarzenberg also responded toughly to Russia’s opposition to NATO’s missile defence project. Asked about Russian demands for legal guarantees regarding the planned anti-missile shield, Mr Schwarzenberg said the alliance would not have conditions dictated to it, and that Moscow’s Cold War stance towards the project was confused. President Medvedev has threatened to install missiles in Kaliningrad and other regions that would target parts of the Western anti-missile project. Secretary General of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Russia would be wasting its money if it invested in counter-measures against the NATO project. NATO has repeatedly called on Moscow to cooperate with it in the sphere of anti-missile defence.
Culture Minister Jiří Besser of the TOP 09 party has resigned from his post. Mr Besser said on Thursday he decided to leave office because he didn’t feel the support of his government colleagues and was not given space to explain his case. Mr Besser had failed to include his share in the Comoros Group company in his property statement. The TOP 09 party, with which Mr Besser is affiliated, plans to select a new candidate for the post on Monday. His resignation has been accepted by the prime minister.
The Council of Higher Education Institutions has slammed the Education Ministry’s proposed act on tuition, saying it cannot be improved, only rejected. Among a series of 65 comments on the proposed bill, the council notes that at a cost of more than 46 million crowns in EU funding, the actual bill is only a page and a half long – the remaining 50 pages they say are merely annexes and assessments of the impacts of legal regulations. The council’s academics have issued their own 134-page set of criticisms of the bill, which they say aside from preparedness lacks also references to other laws, analyses of the effects of tuition on students and the state budget and fails to define even key terminology.
Controversial conservative Ladislav Bátora has left his position as an Education Ministry advisor and his chairmanship of the right-wing group D.O.S.T., several days after making crude remarks about the finance and foreign ministers. Minister Dobeš said earlier in the week that Bátora’s vulgar references to the two cabinet officials were unacceptable, and his departure from D.O.S.T., which is considering becoming a political party, may indicate that his associates there were of the same opinion. A former candidate for the extreme-right National Party, Mr Bátora’s tenure at the ministry was hotly protested by many ever since he was suggested for the post by President Klaus. He left one position voluntarily in October, saying he wanted more freedom to express his views.
The Czech Republic will support all steps leading to stabilising the eurozone, Prime Minister Petr Nečas has said. However, he said, such measures should be agreed upon by all 27 members of the European Union and applied only to the common-currency countries, otherwise intergovernmental agreements beyond EU law would not be ruled out. According to Mr Nečas, the Czech Republic is in favour of using the existing legal framework to resolve Europe’s debt crisis, with only certain changes to EU law. Budget policy incursions, he said, should be faced only by countries with pending budgetary problems.
The daily Hospodářské noviny writes that anticorruption police had evidence that money was being funnelled out of the Prague transit authority for nearly two years, but failed to act. According to the paper, the director of the printing company producing tickets for the city-run transportation company DPP submitted evidence to the anticorruption unit of the police in January, 2010 and believed it had been “swept under the carpet”. The Anticorruption Endowment reported on Tuesday that an organised group has been at work funnelling money out of deliveries of spare parts, fuel and ticket production. On Monday the Prague Public Transport Company cancelled a contract for passenger tickets that the contracted company itself admitted was wildly overpriced.