Czech Foreign Minister: ‘Putin prepared elections well’

Reacting to election of Vladimit Putin for third term, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg hints at campaign manipulation

Politics & Policy|Foreign Affairs
Tom Jones | 05.03.2012
Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg ‘Kremlin watching’ in May 2011. As a result of his contacts with Russian civil rights groups and opposition politicians (and the Putin badge incident) it is unlikely he will receive an invitation beyond its walls from the next Russian president

The return of Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin for a third term as Russian president will not change Czech-Russian relations, nor Moscow’s stance on Syria in the United Nations Security Council, Czech Foreign Minister and deputy prime minister Karel Schwarzenberg (TOP 09) said on Monday.

“The elections turned out exactly as expected: the percentage was right, everything went according to plan. Therefore, I can only congratulate future president Putin on how well he prepared these elections,” Schwarzenberg told the ČTK news agency on Monday.

The Russian Central Election Committee announced on Monday morning that with over 99 percent of votes counted, Putin had secured over 45.1 million votes, or 63.7 percent, thus winning the election in the first round after securing more than the 50 percent required for victory.

‘We will have Putin for long years and we already have an overall idea of how we stand with him’ Since becoming foreign minister in the summer of 2010, Schwarzenberg has not hesitated to comment on the human rights situation in Russia. He has not paid an official visit to the country but in May 2011 he spoke at a conference in Moscow dedicated to the memory of Russian physicist and human rights campaigner Andrei Sakharov.

Schwarzenberg had met opposition politicians in Moscow, including Boris Nemtsov — who was barred from standing in Sunday’s elections — and representatives of civic rights campaigners, and gave interviews with opposition media outlets.

More recently in the Czech parliament last December Schwarzenberg appeared with a badge on his lapel likening Putin to a dog. “Come here, Putinǃ Go to your placeǃ,” the badge read in Czech. Schwarzenberg said it was a present from a young girl.    

Given his previous comments on the political, human and civil rights situation in Russia, it is more than likely Schwarzenberg intended his message of congratulations on a well prepared election to be sardonic: note the Czech Foreign Minister did not congratulate Putin on his actual victory.

The Russian Constitution allows for a president to serve a maximum of two consecutive terms. Last year a constitutional law was passed in Russia extending the presidential term to six years, opening the possibility for Putin to remain in the Kremlin until 2024.

“We will have Putin for many years, and we already have an overall idea of how we stand with him,” Schwarzenberg said, commenting on the prospects for Czech-Russian relations following Putin’s return to the presidency. Under Putin, Russia will attempt to strengthen ties and cooperation with the former Soviet states of Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Russia, Belarus and Ukraine have established a customs union and have plans for a common currency, he said. So far Kiev has signed up to neither.

Outgoing Russian president Dmitry Medvedev paid an official state visit to the Czech Republic in December 2011, upon the invitation of Czech President Václav Klaus, during which several key contracts for Czech firms to provide goods and services to Russia were signed.

Schwarzenberg predicts the return of Putin as Russia’s head of state will not lead to a change of the country’s official position towards developments in Syria. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council Russia has repeatedly vetoed draft resolutions condemning the repressive actions of the regime under the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad. “In every instance they block a solution that would mean a weakening of Russian influence,” Schwarzenberg said. 

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