Presidential candidate Andrej Babiš questioning his country’s commitment to helping neighbouring NATO allies in a TV debate on Sunday has been criticised by the foreign ministers of neighbouring Baltic states and neighbouring Poland.
Asked whether he would send Czech troops into an open conflict if Russia attacked Poland or the Baltic countries during a live TV debate on Sunday, the former prime minister and current presidential candidate said he would not.
He has since corrected his controversial statement, tweeting on Monday that he would “surely comply” with NATO Article 5
Still, his comments did not bode well with neighbouring Baltic states and Poland.
Estonian Minister Urmas Reinsalu called it “the worst example of domestic political campaigning interfering in security issues”, while Reinsalu’s Latvian counterpart, Edgars Rinkēvičs, said the statement was irresponsible.
“If ever Czech freedom, sovereignty and territorial integrity were challenged by an outside force, Lithuanians would stand shoulder to shoulder with the Czech people,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said at the doorstep ahead of the EU Foreign Affairs Council that was held in Brussels on Monday.
Meanwhile, several voices in Poland also expressed regret, with some hoping that Babiš’s rival in the presidential elections would come out ahead.
“We hope that was only a matter of political emotions during the debate since our Czech partners have been proving in recent times that they are loyal to their commitments as allies,” Polish government spokesman Piotr Müller told public TVP Info TV station.
Still, he added he was worried that such a statement may come from any presidential candidate from a country that is a member of the North Atlantic Alliance.
Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau called the statement “regrettable”.
Parties across the Polish political spectrum also criticised Babiš for his comments.
I am confident that Babiš’s rival Petr Pavel will win the election, said ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party MEP Ryszard Czarnecki, while accusing Babiš of the lack of knowledge of the treaties Czechia has signed, including NATO’s Washington Treaty.
Opposition Left MP Wanda Nowacka called Babiš’s statement “stupid”, saying it could harm bilateral relations between Warsaw and Prague, as quoted by TVP Info.
Paweł Kowal from another opposition party, centrist Civic Coalition (EPP), interviewed by RMF FM radio, called Babiš “a soundbox of Putin” that “is starting to compete with [Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor] Orbán” in pro-Kremlin rhetoric.
In Czechia, the comments also received their fair share of criticism, including from Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský (Pirates, Greens).
“Andrej Babiš, with his statement in the debate on Czech Television, has damaged the Czech Republic abroad. Thanks to our membership in NATO and our alliance with other countries, we are part of the strongest military organisation in the world. Questioning these alliance commitments threatens our security,” Lipavský said.
The second round of Czech presidential elections will occur on Friday and Saturday (27-28 January). Opinion polls suggest Petr Pavel, the former chief of the NATO military committee, will defeat Babiš.
(Aleksandra Krzysztoszek | EURACTIV.pl, Aneta Zachová | EURACTIV.cz)