Putin’s friends in Europe turn on him after invasion

Putin’s friends in Europe turn on him after invasion

Some of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s few sympathetic partners in Europe turned on him sharply Thursday in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, dimming further the Kremlin’s hopes of creating new divides in the West as it responds to the crisis.

“I admit I was wrong,” Czech Republic President Milos Zeman said in a nationwide address in Prague Thursday morning.

Mr. Zeman had been a leading pro-Russian voice in Western military and political councils and dismissed recent U.S. warnings of a military attack earlier this week.

“An irrational decision by the leadership of the Russian Federation will cause significant damage to the Russian state,” Mr. Zeman said, according to The Associated Press, adding that he now supports tougher sanctions against Russia in order to “isolate a lunatic.”

Similarly, Hungarian President Viktor Orban, who has turned to Russia as a sympathetic ear in his battles with leaders of the European Union, quickly condemned Mr. Putin’s order to invade.

“Together with our European Union and NATO allies, we condemn Russia’s military attack,” Mr. Orban said in a video posted on Facebook.

Mr. Orban, who just three weeks ago expressed sympathy for Mr. Putin’s security demands and criticized sanctions on Russia on a visit to the Kremlin, now faces a possible refugee crisis on his border as Ukrainians flee the fighting in their homeland.

Similarly, Italy, which relies heavily on Russian oil and gas to meet its energy needs, sharply condemned the Ukraine incursion Thursday. President Mario Draghi told an emergency Cabinet meeting in Rome that he favored “very strong” sanctions against Moscow and would beef up Italy’s military contribution to shoring up NATO’s eastern flank.

Dialogue with Russia now is “impossible,” Mr. Draghi said.

Some countries took a more divided stance.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, whose warm trip to meet Mr. Putin last week angered the Biden administration, issued a watered-down government statement that did not blame Russia explicitly but called for a halt to the fighting and “the beginning of negotiations leading to a diplomatic solution.”

But Mr. Bolsonaro’s vice president, former Gen. Hamilton Mourao, issued a far more condemnatory statement, saying that sanctions and even perhaps military action will be needed to force Mr. Putin to back down in Ukraine.

And Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday was proceeding with a long-planned visit to Russia, the first by a Pakistani leader in nearly two decades, meeting with Mr. Putin himself Thursday morning.

Pakistan is seeking the Kremlin’s approval for the construction of a major new gas pipeline to be built with the help of Russian companies.

A member of the Pakistani delegation told India’s NDTV that there were no plans to cut short the two-day trip in light of the events in Ukraine.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.