The Introductory Word to the Press Conference at the Occasion of the Visit of the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Good evening, dear Mr President,
It is my great honour and pleasure that it is the visit from Ukraine that I first welcome in the role of the President. I am also pleased that President Zelenskyy is the first Ukrainian president to visit the Czech Republic after 14 years. It is like a fresh breeze signalising the beginning of the return to normality as I would consider it to be a standard to meet friends regularly, not after such a long time and surrounded with so many safety measures that the security situation has naturally brought about.
In this context I would very much like to acknowledge the courage with which the Ukrainian nation faces Russian aggression, as well as Volodymyr Zelenskyy personally for his journeys around the world. It is incredible for a leader of a country which is in an aggressive war with a superpower like Russia - namely after having heard the countless life threats - to lob for support for his own country among partners and allies.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy poses a great inspiration not only to his country, but to us all and many Western leaders with his approach, his leadership of a country that has been in a state of war for nearly 500 days. It is incredible to see the commitment and will with which they have confronted the initially overwhelming odds. Today we may say that the powers have somewhat been levelling out, or perhaps they are even now. Ukraine has launched its counter-offensive and it has also exposed the fact that Russia is not as strong as it has been trying to convince us all.
For me, this visit is a sign that the support to Ukraine makes sense, that it is heading towards targets that we have been pursuing - for the Ukraine to succeed, for us all to succeed with respect to the rules on which our society is based. Neither Volodymyr Zelenskyy, nor Ukraine are left standing alone. They may count on our support. We have supported them from the beginning of the aggression, and we will continue to do so. Throughout the conflict’s duration the Czech Republic, by which I mean not only the Czech government, but also private companies and citizens, has contributed to the fight against Russian aggression by the total value of 45 billion. It was primarily in commodities that Ukraine needed the most. We provided a total of 676 pieces of heavy equipment and air defence, 4.2 million pieces of large and medium-calibre ammunition, or for instance 380 thousand pieces of artillery ammunition. The Czech government provided 1.5 billion for development aid and humanitarian assistance in Ukraine. I would also like to mention the solidarity of ordinary citizens who raised financial funds as well as initiatives like “A Gift for Putin” that raised money for a tank called Tomáš or rocket-launcher named Premysl and many more pieces of other equipment and much needed material.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy has come to not only express his thanks for this aid, but also to hear from us that we are by their side, that we will continue to support them in their fight for what we longed for not so long ago - to be free, independent and have the opportunity to decide what organisation we want to belong to. I am convinced that we have to help Ukraine promote these intentions. Similarly, we wished for the support from those states that we wanted to join. I can see no other resolution to this conflict than the success of Ukraine. If Russia were to win, the grounds of the society we live in would be considerably shaken and we would be forfeiting the principles our society is built on.
The support to Ukraine is not only an assistance to a country struck by an armed conflict. We are also helping ourselves for we are discussing a growing scope of collaboration between our companies and Ukrainian ones, between NGOs, between political representations. A lot of Czech companies have been cooperating with Ukrainian companies with great intensity. Therefore we have to see the restoration of Ukraine as an opportunity for the Czech Republic and Czech companies in the post-war period as well as during the present conflict. This win-win situation makes it necessary for us to focus our attention largely on this area. I would like to mention some specific projects, for instance the next-week’s visit to Ukraine by 30 Czech entrepreneurs along with the government secretary Tomáš Kopečný who will discuss the opportunities to extend the cooperation. I would also like to mention the example of two large Czech companies: Skoda JS and Skoda Transportation who have already launched cooperation with Ukrainian partners and have a mighty potential to further enhance this union.
I would also like to point out the upcoming NATO summit in Vilnius next week where we will primarily discuss Ukraine as the situation in Ukraine will be decisive for the security in the whole region. We will negotiate a certain institutionalisation of support to Ukraine in the form of a medium-term plan that will fix the support for the period of five years. The support will be expressed by the financial means of € 500 million to which the Czech Republic is ready to contribute by € 5 million. Equally, the position of Ukraine will be strengthened due to the first summit negotiations between the NATO council and Ukraine where Ukraine will be sitting as equals with NATO members. The communication between NATO and Ukraine will thus reach an entirely new level.
However, the essential thing that Ukraine expects from the Summit is a clear message regarding its future NATO membership. And I think that it is necessary to declare absolutely clearly that it is the interest of the Czech Republic to open accession negotiations of Ukraine to NATO as soon as the war has ended. It is in the interest of our safety, it is in the interest of regional safety as well as economical prosperity. Our experience tells us that power lies in unity, in the support of community that prefers cooperation to confrontation. In that sense we should support Ukrainian access to NATO as well as the European Union. In the framework of the accession of Ukraine to the EU we will strive to launch the negotiations by the end of this year, so that it would resound clearly that Europe counts on Ukraine in future.
Of course, neither NATO or EU memberships are granted automatically. It is not something one can simply be merited. It is conditioned by the fulfilling of a number of requirements. Therefore I would like to commend the level of reforms Ukraine has been implementing in a number of areas. These reforms are a way for Ukraine to approach closer to the EU as well as NATO and to comply with all conditions, which would enable it to become a member of these organisations.
Thank you for your attention and now I would like to pass the word to my colleague Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Petr Pavel, Prezident of the Czech Republic, Prague Castle, 6.7.2023