AP Interview: Czech president says any Russian attack on the Baltics would be suicidal

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PRAGUE — Russia is unlikely to launch a military thrust against the Baltics because President Vladimir Putin "is not suicidal," Czech President Milos Zeman said Tuesday.

The Baltic countries — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — were ruled by Moscow for nearly five decades following World War II and have been especially nervous about Russian intentions since fighting broke out in Ukraine. Latvia and Estonia, like eastern Ukraine, have large Russian-speaking communities.

"I don't think Russia could start a war by attacking any of the NATO member states," Zeman said in an interview with The Associated Press. "Because for sure Vladimir Putin is not suicidal and he knows the consequences this would have.

"I'm sure that in such a case, an appropriate military, not just a political and economic, reaction would take place."

Zeman, whose office is largely ceremonial, has opposed western sanctions against Moscow for its actions in Ukraine. He has suggested they should be gradually taken away "if Russia does not enter Ukraine's soil, because I found them as counterproductive as the former sanctions against Cuba."

Zeman also said it wouldn't make economic sense for Russia to annex eastern Ukraine, where it has supported rebels battling Ukrainian troops.

"I think (Russia) is satisfied with the annexation of Crimea," Zeman said. "I doubt it would be possible to invade eastern Ukraine, simply because it has been destroyed by the civil war and Moscow would have to feed tens of millions of hungry mouths and for that their economic capacity is insufficient."

Zeman recently became embroiled in a public dispute with the U.S. ambassador to Prague, who criticized Zeman's planned trip to Moscow to attend a military parade marking the end of World War II. Zeman accused Ambassador Andrew Schapiro of breaking a diplomatic protocol, and declared that Schapiro was no longer welcome at Prague Castle, the seat of the presidency.

"The Vienna Convention (on diplomatic relations) strictly forbids ambassadors of any country from interfering in the internal affairs of the host state. Mr. Schapiro either unknowingly or on purpose violated this agreement and that disqualifies him as a professional," Zeman said.

Following criticism from Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and other top Czech politicians, Zeman announced he would go to Moscow to honor the Soviet soldiers who died in World War II but will not attend the parade.

"I'm going to Moscow to honor the dead, not the living," Zeman said Tuesday.

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