“We know our position as for Russian-Czech relations and you have contributed a lot to maintain our ties at a high level in recent years and to develop them despite many difficulties,” Putin said.
Zeman has called for closer ties with Russia, criticized European sanctions imposed for the referendum joining Crimea and Russia, and sharply rebuked the EU for failing to stop the flow of migrants and refugees.
He was reportedly displeased with the Czech Interior Ministry’s decision to establish a center to deal with “hybrid threats,” and in particular Russian disinformation, and is often openly at odds with the Czech prime minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, Foreign Policy reported.
The Czech President refused the services of interpreters for the meeting with Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, on the sidelines of a key international conference in Beijing, the “One Belt, One Road” forum held in the Chinese capital.
Putin invited Zeman to join him in Beijing after he had delivered his public address, in preparation of Zeman’s visit to Moscow later this year. The Czech politician spoke Russian during the meeting saying “there was no need for a translator”.
“We all understand at least one Russian dialect,” said the jovial Zeman in Russian, a language he had learned at school.
“You are smoker just like me, Minister Lavrov – but your President forbids it,” 72-year-old Zeman, jokingly told the Russian Foreign Minister in Russian as he warmly shook hands. “I don’t recommend it!” Putin replied laughing too.
“It’s the Duma that forbids it,” retorted Lavrov, with all three politicians joining the friendly banter in Russian.
The joke started during a visit to Moscow in 2015, when Zeman greeted Lavrov in public, pointing out that the Russian Foreign Minister was the smoking room with Putin publicly urging his leading diplomat to give up his habit, according to RT.
Zeman told supporters gathered at Prague Castle last month he would run for a second term despite a controversy in October 2016. Protests followed after Zeman was accused of refusing to present a high-state award to Holocaust survivor Jiri Brady because his nephew, Daniel Herman, minister of culture, had met with the Dalai Lama.
Zeman has been careful not to damage economic ties between the Czech Republic and China, and condemned the meeting.
His phone call with US President Donald Trump also went very well.
The Czech Republic’s parliamentary elections are this coming October, and the presidential elections will be held Jan. 2018.