Is Prague trolling Moscow by honouring slain Putin critic?

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Prague, Czech Republic – The Czech capital dangers angering the Kremlin with plans to rename a public sq. after murdered Russian opposition chief Boris Nemtsov.

The change of title at “Pod Kastany Namesti” (“Under the Chestnuts Square”) in Prague will do little to enhance just lately strained relations with Moscow. The sq., in actuality little greater than a tree-lined street junction within the leafy Prague 6 suburb, hosts the Russian embassy.

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The move extends a sequence of controversies spurred by officers within the Czech capital that seem designed to reassert the EU member state’s pro-Western overseas coverage orientation, in opposition to efforts by populists to drag the nation nearer to nations like Russia and China.

“This is in line with the Czech tradition of respect for human rights,” Prague’s mayor Zdenek Hrib informed Al Jazeera, referring to the overseas coverage stance developed beneath the Czech Republic‘s first president, Vaclav Havel.

The three opposition events that management Prague metropolis council have indicated they may all help the title change in a vote on February 24. A ceremony is organized for 3 days later – the fifth anniversary of Nemtsov’s assassination. Hrib says the previous politician’s daughter, Zhanna, will attend.

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Nemstov, a former deputy prime minister beneath Boris Yeltsin, was a staunch critic of Vladimir Putin‘s administration. He was shot whereas crossing a bridge near the Kremlin partitions on February 27, 2015.

Five Chechens had been jailed for finishing up the contract killing by a Moscow court docket in 2017. However, the identification of who commissioned the assault stays unknown. Russian opposition figures allege the Kremlin was concerned.

Hrib says Prague was becoming a member of “an international initiative”. Streets round Russian embassies in Washington, Kyiv and Vilnius have additionally adopted Nemtsov’s title, sparking anger in Moscow.

Prague additionally plans to call an approach to the sq. by an adjoining park after Anna Politkovskaya, a high-profile journalist and critic of the Kremlin who was assassinated as she entered her Moscow condominium constructing in 2006.

The Russian embassy in Prague didn’t reply to a request for remark.

‘Bozos’

The proposed title adjustments are the most recent jolt in relations between the 2 nations, which have been examined by varied elements of the Czech political institution in latest months.

Moscow reacted with fury final 12 months to a call by Ondrej Kolar, the mayor of Prague 6, to move a statue of a Red Army normal out of the district. 

In feedback to Al Jazeera, Kolar mentioned the Russian embassy had orchestrated protests from native far-right and far-left teams. His household continues to be beneath police safety following threats.

The Czech Republic is believed to be a regional hub for Russian intelligence

Prague Security Studies Institute

In November, the Russian overseas ministry famous “one more actually horrible report from Prague“, and slammed plans by the mayor of Reporyje district to construct a monument to the controversial Vlasov Army, a World War II navy unit made up of Russian defectors, because the “criminal rewriting of history”.

Meanwhile, Czech safety companies (BIS) have issued more and more pressing warnings that the menace from Russian and Chinese espionage and hybrid warfare operations is rising.

“The Czech Republic is believed to be a regional hub for Russian intelligence,” state analysts on the Prague Security Studies Institute (PSSI) reported. “Intelligence personnel represent around one-third of the embassy staff, in addition to those without diplomatic cover.”

The Czech overseas ministry has additionally risked Russia’s wrath by asking the embassy to scale back its headcount. The large neo-Baroque villa within the Bubenec diplomatic district reportedly homes extra employees than its counterpart in London.

These controversies are seen as a part of a wider pushback towards an “alternative foreign policy” crafted by outspoken populist president Milos Zeman.

Alongside a penchant for crude assaults on immigrants, Islam and liberals, the septuagenarian head of state has lengthy sought to increase the powers of his largely ceremonial workplace.

In specific, Zeman has labored to exchange Havel’s overseas coverage legacy with a extra “pragmatic” approach. He has sought nearer ties with authoritarian regimes to the east, together with Russia and China, typically in distinction to official authorities coverage, which follows the strains set by the European Union and NATO.

“President Zeman has repeatedly called for the lifting of economic sanctions against Russia,” word the PSSI analysts. “Among his closest allies and supporters are … entrepreneurs with well-established ties to Russian businessmen and diplomats.”

In response to the safety service’s warnings on Russia and China, Zeman referred to as the BIS safety brokers “bozos”.

Russophobia

However, since Hrib’s election as Prague mayor in November 2018, relations with China have gone backwards. Prague’s refusal to recognise the “one China” coverage has provoked cultural and financial sanctions from Beijing.

The metropolis administration’s proposal to honour Politkovskaya seems significantly pointed. In a gathering with Putin in 2015, Zeman “joked” that journalists must be “liquidated”, a remark that appeared to make the Russian president uncomfortable.

Zeman was fast to slam the plans to rename the sq.. His spokesman accused Prague officers of abusing Nemtsov’s title. Members of fringe political events – together with the nationalist Tricolor and far-right SPD – additionally condemned the move.

Hrib insisted, nevertheless, that “Mr Nemtsov’s daughter has requested the change and will come to the ceremony, so I don’t think anyone can suggest any misuse of the name”. He added that the Russian ambassador had additionally been invited, though he had not but responded.

“I think all Russians should be happy that we’re honouring their former deputy prime minister,” the mayor declared.

However, Hrib skirted questions concerning the potential results on overseas relations, in addition to accusations that his run-ins with Russia and China might be motivated by self-promotion.

A senior official on the overseas ministry, talking on situation of anonymity, complained that the latest spats have sophisticated worldwide relations, and criticised each “local politicians trying to raise their profile”, and the “trolling” of presidency overseas coverage by the presidential workplace.

However, the supply additionally prompt that Russia was an enthusiastic participant in such shenanigans. With a watch on debates over EU sanctions towards Moscow, “there are always attempts to create disunity”, he mentioned, including that the controversies in Prague solely assist “the Kremlin’s propaganda machine” justify its criticism of the West and claims of Russophobia.

“It’s important to show the Russians that we are an emancipated country,” provides Kolar, who will attend the ceremony on February 27. “However, I’m afraid that this renaming will only help ‘Zeman and his boys’ spread their pro-Russian propaganda further in the Czech regions.”