Presidential Election: Babis Backtracks On NATO Comments Amid International Outcry
He has been strongly criticised both at home and abroad for his comments. Photo credit: Vlada.cz.
Prague, Jan 24 (CTK) – Czech presidential candidate and former prime minister Andrej Babis (ANO) told CTK yesterday that he has never challenged NATO’s collective defence pact, claiming that his comments during the debate on Sunday were distorted.
“I resolutely reject the effort to distort statements I made during the Sunday debate. I have never challenged Article 5 or NATO collective defence. I just did not even want to imagine that World War III might start. Politicians must seek peace and prevent war. This was clear from the context of the debate,” Babis said.
Asked in the television debate on Sunday whether the Czech Republic should send its troops to an open conflict in the hypothetical case that Poland or the Baltic countries were attacked, Babis said: “No, certainly not. I want peace, I do not want war. I absolutely would not send our children and the children of our women to a war.”
He has been strongly criticised both at home and abroad for his comments.
After the debate ended, Babis tried to soften the impact of his words on Twitter by writing that he would follow NATO Article 5, which says that an attack on a member of NATO would be considered an attack on all.
The Czech Republic has been a member of NATO since 1999, along with Poland. Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania joined NATO five years later.
Pavel said on Twitter yesterday that the collective defence principle is the basis of NATO, and Babis had denied it on Sunday. “He later realised what he did and corrected himself. If he did this as president, it would be a scandal in the whole of NATO. We cannot afford such chaos,” tweeted Pavel, a former chief of staff and ex-chairman of the NATO Military Committee.
Pavel previously said Babis was trying to present him as a warmonger, in contrast to Babis being a peacemaker. The police are investigating fake SMS messages that call, on behalf of Pavel, on recipients to come to a military office to collect equipment for mobilisation to fight in Ukraine.
Pavel told CTK on Sunday that it was in the interest of the Czech Republic to be seen as a serious ally and partner. Several Czech government politicians criticised Babis’s comments, calling it an international disgrace and a low trick.
The international press and politicians began reacting to Babis’s comments yesterday. German news agency DPA wrote that Babis had cast doubt on the Czech Republic’s commitments as a member of NATO, noting that the statements had also met with indignant reactions in Poland and the Baltic states.
The story was published by other German media including the Handelsblatt daily and Saxony’s Sachsische Zeitung, which reported that Babis’s comments had even drawn Czech PM Petr Fiala to react, who has otherwise stayed out of the presidential campaign.
Babis’s words also met with criticism in Poland and the Baltic countries. Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics, quoted by DPA, said that he knows what an election campaign means, but nonetheless labelled Babis’s words as excessive and irresponsible. Sachsische Zeitung wrote that both Polish and Ukrainian media have reported Babis’s words with embarrassment.
Babis has also been criticised by Czech Deputy PM Ivan Bartos, who branded him a direct and concrete danger to the Czech Republic, adding that, “He would betray our allies.”
Babis said he wrote to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki that he never challenged the principle of collective defence. He said he asked outgoing President Milos Zeman to relay the same message to Polish President Andrzej Duda at the two presidents’ meeting in Nachod near the Polish border on Tuesday.
Political scientist Lubomir Kopeček of the SYRI Institute said that Babis’s comments form part of his campaign strategy.
“Although this statement is in sharp contradiction to the anchoring of the Czech Republic in NATO, it fits into the content of his campaign before the second round, which is in the spirit of questioning the pro-Ukrainian position of the Czech Republic and pleading for reconciliation with Russia. By doing so, Babiš is clearly targeting voters who do not prefer the pro-Western orientation of the Czech Republic,” said Kopeček.
Kopeček added that Babiš is currently not addressing the question of what will happen after the elections if he is elected president. “He is only focused on trying to succeed in the elections at all costs, even though this may have an impact on his credibility outside the Czech Republic and the credibility of this country.”