Vladimir Putin has been busy making friends. He found plenty of warmth on his recent trip to Egypt, and he’s close with the heads of the new Syriza government in Greece. Further north, he’s got plenty more buddies. The Financial Times reports on Czech President Milos Zeman:
When European leaders pleaded with Vladimir Putin to end the conflict in Ukraine at a conference in Milan last October, Czech President Milos Zeman was conspicuously absent.
While German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande battled in vain to win round the Russian president, Mr Zeman was settled in a plush armchair having a cosy chat over cigarettes and coffee with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.
For officials in Prague, Mr Zeman’s vanishing act in Milan highlighted their fears that the president has gone rogue. Contrary to the Czech Republic’s foreign policy, Mr Zeman has condemned sanctions against Russia, dismissed the Ukrainian conflict as a “civil war” and counts an ex-KGB officer blacklisted by the US as a close friend and confidant. […]
In September, Mr Zeman gave a 17-minute speech in fluent Russian denouncing EU and US sanctions against Moscow, and referring to the war in eastern Ukraine as a bout of “flu”, and on Sunday predicted that sanctions on Russia would likely be dropped within a year.
Better-known and more mainstream European politicians are also cozying up to Putin: French ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, who was recently re-elected head of the powerful UMP, came out this week in support of the EU formally ceding Crimea to Russia, and had some kind words for the Kremlin. Another UMP figure, the mayor of Nice, has come out in even stronger support of Putin.
Leader of the far-right UKIP party Nigel Farage asserted in late 2014 that Europe “directly encouraged the [Euromaidan] uprising in Ukraine” that “led in turn to Vladimir Putin reacting.” Farage also called Putin “the statesman he most admires.” And Vlad’s well-documented, longstanding friendship with Italian ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi is more meaningful when you consider the latter may soon be back in power due to changes in Italy’s electoral laws that allow him to form a pact with current PM Matteo Renzi.
All in all, these are not the most auspicious signs for continuing European solidarity in response to the Ukraine crisis.