PRAGUE (Reuters) – Czech President Milos Zeman, long sympathetic to Moscow, said on Monday he would award the highest state honours to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for his bravery and courage in the face of Russia’s invasion.
Zeman has supported closer ties with Russia since taking office in 2013 but called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “madman” at the outset of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Russia has faced harsh Western sanctions in retaliation for its invasion, which Moscow has called a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine.
On Monday, at an overdue state awards ceremony – which had been interrupted in the past two years by the COVID pandemic – Zeman showed support for Ukraine and its people as “war raged”, calling the war one provoked by Russian aggression.
He said one parliamentary deputy had proposed awarding Zelenskiy the highest Czech honours.
“And I decided to comply with this proposal,” Zeman said.
“This is because the Ukrainian president has shown courage and bravery, and although the United States offered him an evacuation, he stayed in the capital of his country, from where he is leading its defence.”
CTK news agency cited Zeman’s spokesman as saying Zelenskiy could be given the honours at the end of October, when the award ceremony usually takes place.
Zeman has faced criticism for pushing closer ties to Russia or China while in office. However, Czech relations with Moscow soured in a spy row last year while some of Zeman’s grand investment plans with Beijing have failed to materialise in the Czech Republic.
CTK reported that several guests invited to Monday’s ceremony refused to come due to Zeman’s earlier pro-Russian opinions.
(Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by David Gregorio)