Yesterday we began discussing former Czech president Václav Klaus‘s defense of Vladimir Putin – in particular, Klaus’s claim that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was the fault of the US and EU. “Among former European statesmen,” wrote James Kirchick a year ago in the Daily Beast, “Klaus has long been Putin’s most slavish defender, even more vociferous than ex-German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.” That’s saying a lot, given the extremely chummy relationships Putin enjoys with both of those men. (We examined Vlad’s “bromance” with Berlusconi not that long ago.)
The mutual respect between Putin and Klaus goes back a few years. As Kirchick pointed out, Putin awarded Klaus the Pushkin medal in 2007; in 2008, “Klaus was the only European leader to blame the Georgians” for Putin’s invasion of their country; in April of last year, Klaus and a former aide, Jiri Weigl, wrote an article defending Putin’s annexation of Crimea.
In an article for the World Affairs Journal, Andrei Illarionov and Dalibor Rohac of the Cato Institute took a close look at Klaus’s defense of that invasion. Saying that Klaus “might well be the most prominent foreign figure defending Russia’s annexation of Crimea and denying Kremlin’s complicity in the war unfolding in the East of Ukraine,” Illarionov and Rohac sum up – and respond to – his position as follows:
Klaus argues that the separation of Crimea from Ukraine resulted from genuine efforts of its people to attain independence. But he offers very little evidence for that claim. Crimea long enjoyed considerable autonomy within Ukraine, including its own constitution. The only openly separatist movement in Crimea…secured only three seats out 100 in the last election to the Crimean Parliament. And between 2011 and 2014, the publicly declared support for joining Russia among Crimean inhabitants was between 23 and 41 percent.
Klaus also maintained that the pro-freedom demonstrations in Kiev’s Maidan Square turned radical and that the pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych chose to respond with “concessions” rather than “repressive action.” As Illarionov and Rohac pointed out, this claim is absurd. So is Klaus’s apparent belief that the Maidan protests were planned by people in Western Europe and the U.S. Ditto his bizarre description of Ukraine as largely an “artificial entity that did not turn into an independent state until the breakup of the Soviet Union two decades ago.” Illarionov and Rohac had a definitive reply to that: “why should modern Ukraine seem any more ‘artificial’ than, say, the independent Czechoslovakia after the demise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, with its sizeable German, Hungarian, Rusyn, and other populations?…Is Poland ‘an artificial entity’ because it includes territories of the former German, Austrian, or Russian empires?”
But Klaus reached even further. We’ll get around to that tomorrow.