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Russia’s war on Ukraine will shape Czech EU Presidency

PRAGUE (AP) — Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and what Europe must do to counter its consequences have become the key task of the Czech Republic’s upcoming presidency of the European Union at 27.

The Czech Republic’s motto for the half-yearly presidency, which it takes over from France on July 1, is “Europe as a task: rethink, rebuild, reinvigorate”, based on a 1996 speech by the late President Czech Vaclav Havel.

“Europe and the whole world have undergone a crucial change,” Prime Minister Petr Fiala said on Wednesday, presenting his country’s priorities. “The Russian invasion has shaken many of our certainties.”

The country has pledged to use the rotating Presidency of the Council, which sets and moderates the political agenda of the EU, to help Ukraine in any way possible. The Czechs are among the Eastern European countries that warmly support the acceleration of Ukraine’s application for EU membership.

“We have two concrete goals,” Fiala told the Czech parliament. “The first is to grant Ukraine candidate status as soon as possible…and the second is our support for the toughest possible sanctions against Russia.”

More than 7.5 million people have fled Ukraine since Russian troops invaded on February 24 and another 8 million are internally displaced, according to the UN refugee agency. This created the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

The Czech Presidency will work with the European Commission, the executive body of the EU, to provide assistance to countries most affected by the influx of Ukrainians, including Poland, Romania and Hungary. More than 375,000 Ukrainians, mostly women and children, have registered in the Czech Republic to receive a special long-term visa that gives them access to jobs and health care.

For the future, the last hope of the Czechs is to host a summit of European leaders on the post-war reconstruction of Ukraine in Prague, which will be attended by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in person. It won’t be happening anytime soon, with fierce fighting raging along a front line that Zelenskyy says is now 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) long.

In another key element, the Czechs want the EU to “significantly reduce its dependence on hostile or unstable regimes”. This goal creates a potential clash with European heavyweights such as Germany and Italy, which are much more dependent than other EU countries on Russian energy imports, especially natural gas.

The Czech Republic, like France, is heavily dependent on nuclear energy and plans to build more nuclear reactors to “ensure EU energy security and achieve EU climate goals”. Another Czech goal, the promotion of voluntary joint gas purchases, might be more appropriate for reaching a compromise between EU nations.

Russia’s Gazprom announced a reduction in natural gas flows through a key European pipeline for the second day in a row on Wednesday, creating further energy turbulence for Europe.

The Czechs also want to strengthen Europe’s defense capabilities, in cooperation with NATO, in the fight against disinformation and cybersecurity.

Reducing high inflation and strengthening the resilience of the European economy are also among the Czech priorities. Inflation in the eurozone soared to 8.1% in May and jumped to 16% in the Czech Republic, which does not use the euro shared by 19 EU countries.

Fiala said such inflation “is a direct consequence of Putin’s war against the Western world.”

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Follow all AP stories about the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.

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Samuel Petrequin in Brussels contributed to this.

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