PRAGUE: The Czech president on Saturday warned Russia against military action in Ukraine, recalling the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by Soviet-led Warsaw Pact armies that installed Soviet troops in the country for two decades.
“Although I absolutely understand the interests of the majority Russian-speaking population of Crimea… we have our experience with military intervention from 1968,” Zeman said in a statement obtained by AFP.
“I think any military intervention creates a deep ditch which cannot be filled for a generation,” added the 69-year-old Zeman, the country’s first-ever directly elected president, in office for a year.
Earlier on Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin won approval from the parliament’s upper house to use Russian troops in Ukraine, while Kiev accused Moscow of sending thousands of soldiers into Crimea.
The August 21, 1968, invasion by Soviet and Warsaw Pact troops from Bulgaria, East Germany, Hungary and Poland crushed a widespread democratic reform movement in the former Czechoslovakia, with more than 100 people killed and 500 injured in its early days.
Czechoslovakia shed the totalitarian communist rule in 1989, four years before it split peacefully into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek also said Russia’s steps resembled “the breach of Czechoslovakia’s sovereignty” in 1968.
“I definitely reject and condemn the steps taken by the Russian federation. We no longer handle rifts in Europe with force,” he said, pointing out that Russia had pledged in 1994 to respect and guarantee Ukraine’s sovereign status.
“It is unacceptable for the Russian federation not to take seriously its own words or pledges. Such acts could not remain without response,” said Zaoralek.
Zeman, an economist by profession and an advocate of closer Czech-Russian relations, attended the opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics last month, unlike many Western leaders who snubbed the event over rights concerns.
The Czech president joined the Communist Party in 1968 but was stripped of membership two years later over his disapproval of the 1968 invasion. He also lost his job of university lecturer as a result of his disapproval.