Czechs Fuel Old Feud, Russia Says

PRAGUE -- Russia has accused Czech politicians and media of digging up the worst of the Cold War in a row over Moscow's handling of World War II victory commemorations.

The diplomatic volley, over whether soldiers from Russia's campaign against Chechen rebels took part in a Red Square parade, has plunged tetchy relations between the former Soviet bloc allies to a post-communist low.

In a written statement, the Russian Embassy in Prague blasted the Czech reaction to President Vaclav Havel's claim that Moscow had broken its promise that Chechnya veterans would not participate in a May 9 Red Square parade. The Russian assurance had formed the basis for Havel's attendance at the parade last week.

"Some days ago, a noisy campaign was set in motion ... in the worse traditions, it would seem, of the 'Cold War,' which was laid to rest," said the embassy statement issued Thursday.

"Unfortunately, a number of Czech politicians were also included in this campaign," it added.

Havel's chief of staff on Monday summoned Moscow's ambassador to Prague Castle to "resolutely" protest Russia's "broken" promise.

The Russians have said categorically that, in line with assurances given by President Boris Yeltsin, there were no veterans from the Chechnya war at the Red Square parade. Prague Castle insists that units from the Chechen campaign marched in the parade.

Havel's protest was followed by a shower of verbal shots at Moscow by leading Czech politicians and commentators.

"It is just another signal indicating that Russia is not willing to build up democratic relations with us, as we had originally imagined," Jiri Payne, chairman of parliament's foreign relations committee, told the daily Lidove Noviny.

The Russian Embassy appeared to take issue with such comments.

"Moscow unconditionally wishes to -- and will -- build relations only on a legally equal and democratic basis, although perhaps some will not like that very much," the statement said. "Sadly ... some people apparently have a short memory."

Czechs are already furious at Russia's attempts to block former Soviet satellites from joining NATO.

Many have accused Moscow of again trying to extend its hegemony over Prague, four years after the last Soviet soldier left the country and decades after the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia.

The embassy said Moscow would issue an official reaction to Havel, once it receives a written statement. Prague Castle said an official cable was delivered to Yeltsin on Wednesday.