Prague - Czech President Milos Zeman considers the conflict in Ukraine to be a civic war, not a Russian invasion, he told radio station Frekvence 1 on Wednesday and added that he believes Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying there are no Russian soldiers in Ukraine.
Český prezident Miloš Zeman (druhý zprava) přichází na druhý den jednání summitu NATO 5. září ve velšském Newportu v doprovodu hradního protokoláře Jindřicha Forejta (vpravo). ČTK Dospiva Jakub
"If you mean a civil war in Ukraine, it is first of all necessary to call it with its proper name and say honestly that it is really a civil war. Naturally, it can develop into a Russian invasion, but in this stage, it is a civic war between two groups of Ukrainian inhabitants," Zeman said in the Pressklub programme to be broadcast on Sunday.
His words are at a sharp variance with the statements by NATO leaders, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka (Social D Democrats, CSSD) and Defence Minister Martin Stropnicky (ANO), who said some 5,000 Russian soldiers are fighting in the east of Ukraine as far as he is informed.
The stance of Zeman, who spoke similarly at the NATO summit in Wales on Thursday, was indirectly criticised by Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt.
Bildt said Zeman could ask the Czech intelligence service about the issue.
Zeman told Frekvence 1 that during the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, the country was occupied by 150,000 Russian soldiers in the first wave, which is an invasion army.
"Until now, it has not been proved that there is a Russian invasion military in Ukraine and I am serious about Foreign Minister Lavrov´s statement that there are not Russian sodliers there," Zeman said.
Lavrov was also long denying the presence of Russian soldiers in Crimea, which Russia eventually occupied.
Zeman repeated his stance on tightening the sanctions against Russia. He said sanctions would be necessary if there were a real Russian invasion, but not in other cases.
Generally, Zeman rejects sanctions as a way to solve conflicts.
In connection with Ukraine in the past, he was pushing for the most frequent exchange of businesspeople and tourists and also for a change of the system from inside by democratic and legal means.
In the interview, Zeman regretted that Ukraine itself is destroying its industrial potential and is creating deep gaps between the Russian-language and Ukrainian-language inhabitants.
He said he is afraid that it will take decades to remove the consequences of the conflict.
Zeman said he is convinced that the emergence of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq is minimally just as dangerous as Russia´s imperial ambitions.
He said he is trying to persuade Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek (CSSD) of the threat of Islamic expansionism.