Moscow has made its opinion about the Czech EU presidency clear by the fact that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has left out his usual visit and did not arrive in Prague ahead of the start of its presidency.

The Russian press and analysts are rather sceptical about EU-Russia relations under the Czech baton in the first half of 2009.

Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Russian lower house`s foreign committee, recently said the forthcoming Czech presidency raises concern in big EU states, mainly where it comes to Prague`s approach to its role of an organiser during the present financial crisis.

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The daily Izvestiya, widely considered close to the Kremlin, has divided the EU states into four groups according to their "Russophobia" level. It has not included the Czech Republic among the biggest critics such as Poland, the Baltic states, Britain and Sweden, but has included it in the group of "moderate critics."

Unlike Warsaw, in Prague the opposition to Russia is not the main point in its policy, the paper wrote.

The financial daily Kommersant, on its part, has warned that Moscow could get irritated by the "eastern partnership" as one of the Czech EU presidency`s priorities.

The idea of actively bring Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus closer to the EU is viewed as an effort to divert these post-Soviet republics from Russia, Kommersant wrote.

"Moscow, to which the EU`s eastern policy has been oriented to a large extent so far (mainly under the presidencies of Germany and France), will under the Czech presidency actually thrown overboard of the EU`s foreign policy aimed eastwards," the paper wrote.

Russian analysts addressed by ČTK have agreed that it would be far from easy for Prague to take up EU presidency after France. Prague, in its relations to Russia, will bear the burden of the post-communist past and of the current plan to have a US military radar base built on Czech soil, the analysts said.

Mikhail Delyagin, head of Moscow`s Institute for globalisation problems told ČTK he fears that Czech-Russian relations might become "ideologised" when concrete problems start to be solved during Czech EU presidency.

Only time will show whether Czech politicians will succumb to the temptation to play the historical card like Poland and the Baltic states do, or whether they will prefer seeking "concrete pragmatic results" within the thesis that the EU has not only values but also interests, Delyagin said.

According to Sergei Rogov, had of the Moscow Institute for the USA and Canada, Prague is able to successfully develop its relations with Russia. In the Russia-Georgia conflict this summer it behaved more reservedly than Poland, the Baltic states and Ukraine, Rogov pointed out.

A trouble might arise in connection with the planned US radar base which Russian views as the biggest threat to its security, Rogov added.

"Starting points are not good but the expectations are not high either," said an EU diplomat, who requested anonymity, but added that the final result, including in relation to Russia, may be the better thanks to Czech pragmatism.

Copyright 2008 by the Czech News Agency