* Ministers say Russian firms should be excluded from deal
* They say actions in Crimea make Russia unfit as partner
* PM: events in Ukraine no reason to kick Russian firms out
PRAGUE, March 3 Two Czech government ministers
said on Monday that Russian firms should not be allowed to take
part in the expansion of a Czech nuclear power station, worth
over $10 billion, after Russian troops seized Ukraine's Crimea
The Czechs, members of NATO and the European Union, have
said Russian actions in Crimea over the weekend broke
international law and government leaders likened the incursion
to the 1968 Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia.
But Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, while condemning
Russia's actions, said his country could not break off all
economic ties with Russia, a major trade partner.
He said the government could not step in and exclude Russian
firms from bidding in majority state-owned utility CEZ's
tender to double the size of the 2,000 MW Temelin
nuclear power plant.
The tender has pitted U.S. and Russian firms against each
other in what media have called a choice between East and West.
"Although the Czech Republic clearly views what is going on
in Crimea negatively, there is no reason for us to scrap all of
our business relations," Sobotka said.
Earlier, Defence Minister Martin Stropnicky, a former
diplomat from the centrist ANO party, the second largest ruling
coalition party after Sobotka's leftist Social Democrats, said
he could hardly imagine Russian firms taking part in the project
after what had happened in Crimea.
"Russia has disappeared from the group of predictable,
democratic countries. What it is doing is unacceptable," news
website www.idnes.cz quoted him as saying. He confirmed the
comments to Reuters.
A consortium including Russia's Atomstroyexport is bidding
to expand the Temelin plant, alongside Toshiba's U.S.
unit Westinghouse. CEZ hopes to wrap up the tender in the second
quarter of 2015.
It is not clear however that a contract will be awarded in
the near term, because low electricity prices make nuclear
energy economically unviable without some form of state support
- something CEZ has yet to win from the new government.
However, there is a broad political consensus in the Czech
Republic in favour of nuclear energy.
Stropnicky's views were also backed by Jiri Dienstbier, a
Social Democrat and minister for human rights.
"There has been talk about sanctions against Russia.
Personally, I cannot imagine that Russians will continue to take
part in the tender to expand Temelin because a country that uses
military aggression in foreign policy is a security risk for the
Czech Republic as well," news website www.aktualne.cz quoted
Dienstbier as saying.