The Czech Republic Comes to Ukraine’s Aid | National Review

The Czech Republic Comes to Ukraine’s Aid | National Review

Demonstrators attend a rally in support of Ukraine in Prague, Czech Republic, February 24, 2022. (David W Cerny/Reuters)

Eastern Europe is a tough neighborhood. Ukrainians, Poles, Czechs, and the Baltic nations have struggled for centuries against imperial domination by larger neighbors. 

The latest manifestation of this unhappy phenomenon is, of course, Russia’s attempt to reassert the dominance over Ukraine that it enjoyed during the Czarist and Soviet eras. Frightened by these imperial ambitions, Poland and the Baltic states have provided steadfast military and diplomatic support to Ukraine over the past month.

One country that has received less attention is the Czech Republic. The president is Miloš Zeman, an aging figure who rose to political prominence soon after Czech independence. Until recently, he was viewed by many as sympathetic to Putin, a political weak link in NATO’s eastern flank. No longer. As the AP reported the day Russia’s invasion began, Zeman denounced it as “an unprovoked act of aggression,” and “a crime against peace.” In the wake of the invasion, the Czech Republic has become one of NATO’s most forward-leaning advocates of the Ukrainian cause. Czech prime minister Petr Fiala even joined his Polish and Slovenian counterparts in visiting half-encircled Kyiv to signal solidarity with Ukraine.

This support has taken material as well as rhetorical form. In addition to humanitarian aid and welcoming over 300,000 refugees (more than half of them children), the Czechs have worked to support the Ukrainian military in more direct ways.

“We took our lead from President Zelensky’s comment, ‘I need ammunition, not a ride,’” Czech deputy defense minister ​​Tomáš Kopečný told National Review. Since the war began, the Czech government has dispatched weapons and ammunition worth over $130 million dollars to the Ukrainian military.  

They are well-positioned to support Ukraine. The Czech arms industry was one of the largest in the Warsaw Pact, and to this day the Czechs are major weapons exporters. Unlike most NATO members, their expertise and weapons stockpiles (largely held by private companies) are in the Soviet-style systems with which the Ukrainian military has deep institutional familiarity. 

As tensions rose between Russia and Ukraine back in December, the Czech Ministry of Defense identified privately held weapons systems that would be interoperable with and strategically beneficial to the Ukrainian military. The day of the invasion, the two governments began coordinating to get as much of this material as possible from Czech companies to Ukrainian soldiers.

“All the traditional bureaucratic burdens on exporting military hardware had fallen away within a few hours of the invasion of Ukraine,” Kopečný said. “It used to take 50-60 days to get an export license; it now takes two to four hours for Ukraine.” The Czechs have placed no restrictions on weapon categories available to Ukraine for purchase.

In addition to Czech donations and Ukrainian government outlays, a uniquely 21st-century source is now financing weapon acquisitions: crowdfunding. 

Immediately after the war with Russia began, Ukraine’s embassy in the Czech Republic launched a global crowdfunding campaign to sponsor further arms purchases. It struck a chord with the Czech public, and even attracted some donors from elsewhere in Europe and in the United States. According to the Czech Ministory of Defense, the campaign has raised over $40 million in donations, every dollar of which has gone to purchasing vital anti-aircraft, anti-tank, and other weapon systems for the Ukrainian government. 

There may be a long tradition of Russian imperialism in Eastern Europe, but Russia’s former vassals have no interest in seeing history repeat. Russian state propagandists may preach Slavic brotherhood, but nations like the Czechs and Ukrainians see their Slavic fraternity in a different light; it binds their fates together in a common struggle for national independence.

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.