Czech diplomacy in Syria: A protecting power for the West?

Czech diplomacy in Syria: A protecting power for the West?

At present the Czech Republic remains the only Member State of the European Union to maintain diplomatic relations with war-torn Syria. Consequently, the Czech mission in Syria frequently provides consular services for EU and US citizens in Syria and intermediary services for external actors.

On 9 August this year, the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the success of negotiations with Damascus over the release of two workers for a German humanitarian aid group imprisoned in Syria. The individuals were arrested earlier in 2018 by Syrian authorities on the Iraqi border for entering the country without proper travel documents.

Their release, and subsequent repatriation, marks the latest in a string of diplomatic victories the Czechs have managed to secure in Syria; in January 2017, Czech negotiators secured the release of a Polish national who had been imprisoned by Syrian authorities since 2015, and in 2016 the Czech authorities initiated a programme of aid and relief efforts intended to ameliorate the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria.

Last ambassador standing

Under Ambassador Eva Filipi – the only European ambassador left in Damascus – the Czech embassy in Syria has developed an image as a protecting power for Western citizens in Syria since the outbreak of the civil war. In particular, Prague regards its embassy as a crucial avenue for improving Czech-US relations, to the extent that one of the eight staffers of the Czech embassy in Damascus is tasked full-time with assessing and managing US interests in Syria.

Whilst Ambassador Filipi does not negotiate on behalf of the US, the Czech role in Syria has created an invaluable diplomatic bridgehead for the Americans in Syria. While the Czech mission has drawn criticism back in Prague for legitimising the Assad regime through its continued presence in Damascus, there is a growing argument that the Czech Republic’s mission to Syria offers an precious source of protection for EU citizens and foreign humanitarian aid workers in Syria.

However, whether the Czech mission can continue to play its valuable role may be in question. Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaorálek has stated that if it can be confirmed that the Assad regime used chemical weapons against its own civilians, closing the Czech embassy in Syria would be one of the options considered as a response to the atrocity. Some in the Czech parliament also suggested that Russia vetoing against the others in the UN Security Council on Syrian matters should constitute a sufficient reason for the Czechs to retreat.

Outlook: Impact of a Czech withdrawal

The future of the Czech mission is therefore uncertain. Nevertheless, the impact of a potential Czech withdrawal from Syria should not be underestimated. The closure of the last official EU embassy in Damascus would have far-reaching negative effects on the safety and capability of foreign aid agencies seeking to alleviate the situation in Syria.

Moreover, the US and any other Western actors would lose their current or potential protection or source of information within the country. On this basis, some Czech diplomats have expressed their belief that Ambassador Filipi should stay through the course of the Syrian civil war, until its conclusion.



About Author

Louis Cox-Brusseau

Louis is a political analyst and researcher currently based in Prague, Czech Republic. After graduating from the University of Cambridge, Louis pursued postgraduate studies in International Relations at King’s College London, focussing on conflict simulation and international norms of human security. He has worked previously as political advisor in one of the major political groups in the European Parliament, assigned to the Foreign Affairs, Security and Defense and Human Rights committees.