Read the original text at eurointegration.com.ua.
The Czech Republic is one of the countries that in the Ukrainian diplomatic circles is sometimes called "difficult" one, and there are enough reasons for this.
There is a lot of Ukraine’s guilt in it, and of former ambassador Borys Zaichuk who led the diplomacy in Prague since 2012 and personally committed himself to creating many problems. The president of the Czech Republic, Miloš Zeman, who is considered to be Putin's greatest friend among the European leaders, has added fuel to the controversy. And yet a painful visa issue, trips of Czech politicians to Crimea, old offences ... So, the background of our relations could not be called positive.
But in recent months the situation has changed.
Prague and Kyiv have simultaneously appointed new ambassadors. Visa problem, in essence, has disappeared. The Czech Republic eliminated the so-called "representative center of DPR" and began to persecute citizens involved in hostilities in Donbas...
Is there a possible reboot in the relations between Kyiv and Prague?
In order to answer this question, we talked with the Czech Ambassador to Ukraine, Radek Matula. His answers give reason for optimism.
One of the major stimuli in Ukrainian-Czech relations is President Milos Zeman. I am not the first person, from whom you hear it, right?
Yes, that is true. But, first of all, I want to note that in the Czech Republic - like in most other countries - authorities do not have one unified view of the world. But there is no doubt that the Czech government - namely, it is responsible for the concept of the foreign policy of the state - is interested in good relations with Ukraine.
During six months of my work here, four Czech ministers have visited Ukraine, and all without exception have declared clear support of Ukraine in all the matters of vital importance. I am talking about full support for sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, support for reforms. The Czech Republic supports the further development of your relations with the EU. We clearly favored a visa-free regime. The Czech Republic does not recognize the annexation of Crimea, advocates for a peaceful settlement, supports the principled approach of the European Union to its relations with Russia, including the issue of sanctions.
Speaking about President Zeman... As ambassador, I respect the president's right to express his opinion on foreign policy. And, of course, I know that Ukraine does not like many of these statements. But most of them are dated for 2014-2015.
There were incorrect statements in 2016...
But I am talking about most of them, and they really sounded two or three years ago. This is 2017 year. And six months ago, while I am here, I did not feel that the Ukrainian-Czech relations were at a bad level. On the contrary, we are now talking about intensification in all spheres.
Can we be sure that at some point the government will not support Zeman's position - in particular, in the issue of mitigating sanctions?
Czech government believes that sanctions cannot be reviewed if the reasons for their implementation have not been resolved. We really consider it important to maintain unity in the EU on this issue, and therefore we support the prolongation of sanctions to the full implementation of the Minsk agreements.
And even after the settlement of the situation in the East of Ukraine, the Czech Republic will insist on the need to maintain sanctions related to the illegal annexation of Crimea.
I am sure that this position of the Czech Republic will not change. Even after the parliamentary elections that will take place in October, after the formation of a new government.
Are there pro-Russian sentiments in the Czech society?
I have such data of social surveys: 52% of Czechs consider the situation in Ukraine a threat to European security. This issue is topical in our media space, 30% of Czechs are interested the development of the situation in the east of Ukraine.
This is not exactly an answer to your question, but for me it means that the Czechs are not indifferent to the fate of Ukraine.
Czech media is a separate topic. Our ambassador to Prague was even forced to write an open letter to Dnes, the leading newspaper of the country, whose journalist praised the LPR/DPR militants. So information is different.
Unfortunately, many people do not think that the media might misinform them. People are ready to believe in everything, including inaccurate facts.
Although the government pays great attention to the problem of misinformation, and not only that which is created by Russia or concerns Ukraine. The Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Czech Republic recently created a center for combating terrorism and hybrid threats. But people, unfortunately, do not really think about it, do not think that not every source can be trusted.
Meanwhile, you will have elections soon: parliamentary in the fall and presidential in the winter. We all saw Russia's attempts to influence the elections in the US, the Netherlands, and France. Can you be sure that this will not happen in the Czech Republic?
Nobody can be sure, but as long as I do not have any information about someone planning to interfere in our election. I also do not know about the government's initiatives on this occasion.
What is the Czech Republic for Ukraine? Friend, partner or contender? Try to describe it with one word.
It is quite difficult to describe it with one word. But if, in short, among the six countries of the Eastern Partnership, Ukraine is our biggest and most important neighbor. Yes, I consider you a neighbor, though we do not have a common border.
A few words about situation with working visas. Czech government promised that the quota for Ukraine would increase substantially. Am I right?
Yes, there was a decision to give Ukrainian citizens twice as many work permits - 8 thousand per year. Applications for working visas will be considered in Lviv. Preparatory work is under way because we have to hire new people at the consulate, and so on.
As the quota will change further, it depends on the arrangements of the government, trade unions and employers' organizations.
Czech Republic does not plan to open the labor market for visa-free travelers, just as Poland did?
I have not heard that someone in the Czech Republic is preparing a similar program.
In spring, Czech Defense Minister Martin Stropnitsky said that Prague lifted restrictions on the supply of weapons to Ukraine. What does it mean? Are we talking about delivery of lethal weapons?
Cooperation between the Ministries of Defense of the Czech Republic and Ukraine focuses on such areas as exercises, training of specialists, exchange of experience in the field of military reform.
After the minister's visit to Kyiv, it will probably be expanded to military medicine. And you are right, at the same time there is a possibility of cooperation in supplying Ukraine with certain types of military equipment - of course, on the basis of the standard process of export licensing.
So far, the policy of the Czech Republic has limited this opportunity - since the winter of 2014 there was a ban on the supply of military equipment and materials to Ukraine. We are currently making this procedure standard one. This means that for each case, the issue of a license will be considered separately.
Have Ukraine already received requests for interest in certain types of armaments?
Personally, I do not have this information. But I am convinced that a number of Czech manufacturers of military products are already in contact with their Ukrainian counterparts.
This is the market. We have demand, we have proposal. The rest is the issue of negotiations.
And the government will connect at the stage of approval of the contract.
In what spheres of military industry the Czech Republic is strong?
We have a well-developed air industry; heavy equipment, including repair and modernization; small arms.
Is there a place for Ukraine in the renewed Europe?
The issue of Ukraine's membership in the EU and NATO is very complicated. In my opinion, this is not a matter of the present time.
I do not say that we are applying for membership right now. For example, I feel the lack of recognition that Ukraine should become a member in the future.
I repeat, this is a difficult task of a long term perspective. Everything depends on Ukraine, whether it is ready to quickly succeed in reforms.
As for the Czech Republic, we have always welcomed and supported the rapprochement of Ukraine with the EU. We have also always recognized European ambitions and the prospect of Ukraine. But now we are talking about convergence, but not talking about membership, because it is not today’s issue.
From time to time, there is information about foreigners that participate in Donbas conflict on the side of the militants. Citizens of the Czech Republic are among them. How to deal with this?
Yes, there is such a problem, indeed. Personally, I do not have clear information on how many of our citizens are fighting in the East of Ukraine, but according to my estimates, it is about 5-10 people.
Czech deputies use to visit Donbas and Crimea against the will of Ukraine. Does the state have some levers of influence on them?
If a Czech deputy, senator or MEPs decides to visit Crimea or the occupied part of Donbas, violating the laws of Ukraine, no one in the Czech Republic can interfere in realizing of these intentions. And you should understand it. It is their personal trip, parliament does not empower them to go there.
The Czech Republic cannot punish them either.
But let us count how many deputies, senators, and members of the European Parliament do we have? 302. How many deputies were there in Donbas and Crimea, violating of the laws of Ukraine? Seven, as far as I know.
And I think that we should not pay attention to them. Because other 300 MPs who voted in favor of Ukraine - those who support the visa-free association, adopt resolution to support Ukraine. It seems to me that one should pay more attention to those who make positive things.
We are confronted with a positive relationship with your country, we do everything possible to develop and improve the situation. And at the moment there are grounds for optimism. The Czech Republic supports Ukraine, and the Czech business is increasingly interested in working in your market.