Just Getting STARTed

By Jiri Kominek

Although news concerning the Prague START II summit has steadily followed the pace of events concerning the joint US-Russia signing of a nuclear arms reduction treaty, it wasn’t until several hours ago, following the departure of US President Barack Obama from the Czech capital to Washington D.C., that some of the juicy morsels of information from the depths have begun to surface.

Prior to the actual summit, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev first stopped in the Slovak capital of Bratislava on Tuesday, April 6 for an overnight stay in order to mark the 65th anniversary of the end of WWII that quickly turned into a Russo-Slovak love fest.

Despite demonstrators protesting the visit by Medvedev—who police conveniently hid from view by parking a bus in front of them so as not to offend the Russian leader—Slovak President Ivan Gasparovic took the initiative to sign a series of bilateral political and economic agreements with his Russian counterpart.

Gasparovic noted that Medvedev’s visit served to confirm the high level of relations between the two countries.

Treaties signed included a joint view of history that curiously omitted the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.

During an official visit to Prague in March 2006, Russia’s then-President Vladimir Putin said, “we (Russia) do not bear any legal responsibility, however, we do bear a moral responsibility (for the 1968 invasion)”.

Medvedev’s recent visit indicates that times have changed and the apparent loss of collective memory could leave Orwell turning over in his grave.

Western diplomatic sources also noted that among the agreements signed, a potential deal for Russian companies to modernize Russia-made helicopters in service with the Slovak armed forces would put a bit of a dent in any NATO modernization projects.

Slovak diplomatic sources on the other hand mentioned that apart from the official Medvedev entourage, Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico was paid a special visit by an unofficial delegation of roughly 500 Russian diplomats and businessmen who kept him busy for several hours well into the night.

The reason this didn’t make the press was that the names of the delegation members did not appear on any official protocols since they decided to drive into Bratislava from nearby Vienna. The nature of what was discussed is not yet clear, however, presumably it concerned more than the weather and wienersnitzel.

Back to observations made by Western diplomats, one noted that the Medvedev Bratislava visit almost gives the appearance that a new dividing line has been drawn between East and West along the Czech-Slovak border.

By early Wednesday evening on April 7 Medvedev landed in Prague and met with Czech President Vaclav Klaus for a lengthy informal discussion in Russian about life, the universe and everything including business and bilateral trade ties such as railway construction and nuclear energy.

Following this, Medvedev’s motorcade headed for the Four Seasons Hotel where the Russian President was scheduled to spend the night. Some Czech media reported that Medvedev actually spent the night at Russia’s massive Embassy compound in the Prague 6 district.

The broad smile on his face the next day during the signing of the START II Treaty makes it difficult to say what he did the previous night.

Following the signature of the treaty, the leaders paused for lunch, after which Medvedev departed for Moscow. Later in the evening, Obama hosted a dinner at the US Ambassador’s residence in the Prague 6 district where he reassured the heads of eleven countries from the Baltics down to the Balkans that the Obama Administration does not Intend to abandon them, despite numerous fears to the contrary. The meal served at the event was reportedly chicken.