Russian President Vladimir Putin has told his visiting Czech counterpart, Milos Zeman, that bilateral relations are developing "despite all difficulties, among other things thanks to your efforts."
Speaking at talks in the Russian Black Sea resort city of Sochi, Putin said on November 21 that the volume of bilateral trade grew by more than 40 percent in the first nine months of the year following a decline in the previous years.
Ahead of the meeting, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Putin "values the interest that [Zeman] is showing in developing Russian-Czech relations. This interest is very spectacular in Europe in general."
Amid a deterioration of relations between Moscow and the West over the Russian aggression in Ukraine, the Syrian civil war, and other issues, Zeman has expressed support for Russia and Putin, raising some concerns among the Czech government and Western allies.
Zeman, whose position is mainly ceremonial in a country where the prime minister holds more power, angered Kyiv last month when he questioned the effectiveness of Western-imposed sanctions against Russia for its aggression in Ukraine.
He called Moscow's illegal annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region in 2014 a "fait accompli" and said that there should be dialogue over Russian compensation to Kyiv, possibly with natural gas, oil, or money.
He has unsuccessfully called on the Czech government to hold a referendum on its membership of the European Union and NATO, although he has said he favors remaining in both organizations and just wants to give citizens a choice.
In 2016, he blasted the United States for its "illegitimate" involvement in Syria's civil war, while praising Russia's "antiterror campaign" in the Middle Eastern country.
Zeman's four-day trip to Russia will also include a visit to Moscow, where he will meet on November 22 with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. He is also scheduled to hold a lunch with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and address the Russian-Czech Business Forum, along with some 130 Czech company executives.
The visit will be one of Zeman's final foreign trips of his five-year presidential term, which will expire next spring. He is expected to seek reelection in the election scheduled for January 2018.
A recent poll showed Zeman would receive 41.5 percent of the vote, ahead of scientist Jiri Drahos, with 30.5 percent.
With reporting by Prague Daily Monitor, Lidovky.cz, Echo24.cz, TASS, and Interfax