PRAGUE: The Czech president has decided to miss a military parade during a visit to Moscow next month, a spokesman said on Friday, after coming under pressure for being one of few European statesmen planning to attend the Victory Day celebrations.
Milos Zeman’s plan to join the event had led to a spat with the U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic. The ambassador has said it would be unfortunate for Zeman to attend the parade at a time when Russian troops are destabilising a neighbour.
European Union leaders are boycotting the ceremony over what they say is Russia’s role in the conflict in Ukraine. Moscow denies Western accusations that it provides rebels in eastern Ukraine with money, arms and troops.
Zeman’s trip also raised objections from junior partners in the centre-left coalition government as well as right-wing opposition parties.
Milos Zeman’s spokesman said the president had made a “sovereign and independent” decision to visit Moscow on May 9 to commemorate World War Two victims but to skip the parade.
“The president will use time devoted by the organisers of the Moscow celebrations to the military parade … for a bilateral meeting with Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico,” spokesman Jiri Ovcacek told reporters.
The Slovak government office said Fico’s programme for May 9 would be released at a later date.
Zeman has repeatedly criticised sanctions against Moscow imposed by the West in response to the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and has generally taken a more pro-Moscow stance than the European Union and NATO member country’s government, which is responsible for foreign policy.
The cabinet has delayed the decision on whether to approve Zeman’s visit to Moscow until next week.