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The election of Petr Pavel as president of the Czech Republic has further anchored that country in the West. That is good news for Ukraine, which is counting on more support.
Pavel (61) will take his oath of office on March 9. He then succeeds Miloš Zeman as head of state, who campaigned for closer cooperation with Russia, but who was no longer eligible for election after two terms in office. Petr Pavel, former head of NATO’s military committee and supporter of military aid to Ukraine, was elected president of the Czech Republic on Saturday. The retired general won against controversial billionaire and former prime minister Andrej Babis, who had been acquitted just days earlier in a trial over fraud involving EU subsidies.
Petr Pavel is considered a hero of the war in the former Yugoslavia, in which he contributed in particular to the liberation of French soldiers. With his unit he helped the French escape when they were surrounded by Croatian and Serbian soldiers. Pavel received a French award for this. He then became Chief of the Czech General Staff and, from 2015 to 2018, was Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, the highest military post in the Atlantic Alliance. He was the first general from a former Eastern Bloc country to hold that position.
The former commando paratrooper – always with a neatly trimmed white beard – is a staunch defender of his country’s membership of the European Union (he would like to introduce the euro) and NATO.
Pavel’s election prompted an outpouring of congratulations from senior Baltic officials who are uneasy about Vladimir Putin’s ambitions in their regions. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, called Pavel’s experience in security, defense and foreign relations “invaluable in maintaining and strengthening Europe’s unity at the service of Ukraine.” German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, for his part, stressed that ‘the Russian offensive war against Ukraine demonstrates more than ever the importance of cohesion within the European Union and NATO’.
The partyless Pavel promised his compatriots, torn apart by a fierce election campaign and polarization, to be an independent president, unaffected by party politics. And also to continue to help Ukraine. He wants to support Kiev’s attempt to join the EU. “Of course, Ukraine must first meet all the conditions to become a member, such as progress in the fight against corruption. But I think it is entitled to the same opportunities we had in the past,” he said.
In the Czech Republic, which is a member of the EU and NATO, the president does not only have representative tasks. He also appoints the government and constitutional judges. He also represents the country externally and is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, with operational foreign and defense policy being the responsibility of the government. During the election campaign, his rival Babiš tried to portray Pavel as a warmonger. During the campaign, Pavel repeatedly called for continued support for Ukraine in the fight against the aggressor Russia.
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