Czech President Milos Zeman, left, and his Serbian counterpart Tomislav Nikolic inspect a guard of honor prior their April 1 meeting in Belgrade. (Getty Images)
PRAGUE — NATO should deploy troops in Ukraine if Russia invades the eastern parts of the crisis-torn country, the president of the Czech Republic said Sunday.
Milos Zeman said that there should be consequences if Russia decides to follow its annexation of the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea last month with further military action.
“If Russia decides to extend its territorial expansion to eastern Ukraine, the fun is over,” he told public Czech Radio.
“In that case, I would promote not only the toughest EU sanctions possible, but also let’s say military readiness on the part of NATO, for instance with its troops entering the Ukrainian territory,” he added.
Ukraine has been ruled by a pro-European administration since the fall of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in February, amid massive protests against his rule.
Crimea’s largely Russian-speaking residents voted in March to become part of Russia, in a hastily organized referendum held as Russian troops patrolled the region.
Several eastern regions with large Russian-speaking populations want to follow Crimea’s example and stage referendums on joining Kremlin rule when Ukraine holds snap presidential polls on May 25.
Washington believes that Moscow has recently massed about 40,000 soldiers near the eastern border of Ukraine.
Although Moscow has denied plans to move its troops beyond Crimea, it has thus far pulled only a few hundred troops back from the border region.