While eastern Europeans are talking about possible next targets in Ukraine (Mariupol, Kharkiv, or everything in between), the occupation of the Baltics (or Moldova, Georgia or even parts of Kazakhstan), Russia is targeting a very central European country: the Czech Republic.
Russia’s efforts to discredit the Czech Republic on an international stage have intensified recently. The so-called “Dragoon Ride” has been a welcomed occasion: soldiers of the American 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment are currently driving Stryker combat vehicles from Estonia Bavaria, Germany via Poland and the Czech Republic.
This fact has been used by Russian agents, Russophiles and others to stage a loud verbal anti-NATO campaign in the Czech Republic (and to distract attention from own large-scale war preparation efforts).
First those efforts were quite successful, as NATO supporters belong to the silent majority – 82% of Czechs have no problems with Americans driving through the country. Thus several civic organizations and the media outlet Svobodné Forum decided to act, and organized the support campaign “Hi Friends” and Pro konvoj 2015, taking place from 28 until 31 March 2015.
The Facebook-account of one of the organizers and chief of Svobodné Forum Pavel Šafr, in the last days was blocked twice due to Russian influence as he claims. It’s noteworthy that several days ago, access to a Czech and Slovak support letter of Ukraine stating “There is War in Europe: Let’s not Repeat the Munich Betrayal of 1938″ was also restricted.
The Czech Communist Party KSČM organized a protest-booth on 26 March 2015 in Vyškov (with the meager outcome of 50 participants), where a part of the troops were to stay overnight. The KSČM is in fact one of the main players for Russia in the Czech Republic: the party is proud of its past as a communist hardline party until the breakdown of socialism in Czechoslovakia in 1989. It is since ever tightly connected to Russia and Russian/socialists sensibilities, and can be compared for example with the German party “Die Linke.” Its average support-rates are at 14%. Its current head and Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Vojtěch Filip was also listed as collaborator of the Czechoslovak state security (a court decided he had not collaborated consciously). Recently, Filip participated in a demonstration in Prague against western sanctions against Russia (Russia’s propaganda-outlet Sputnik eagerly quoted him at this occasion in English and German). In the recent escalation of events, he told cz.Sputniknews that there was no “Russian danger” and that common military exercises and US presence in Europe would make the situation worse.
The political environment in the last months has much supported Russian ambitions: the pro-Russian positions of the country’s president Miloš Zeman (who, interestingly, is in support of “Dragoon Ride”) and his predecessor Klaus are widely known. Less known is that the governing coalition has repeatedly questioned the sense of sanctions against Russia, and be it not for German pressure, it is unlikely that the two bigger coalition parties would have consented to them.
The first party of interest is the “Protest movement” ANO – which critics say is in fact a protest movement against democracy. Its current support rates are around 30%. The party founder and Slovak-born leader Andrej Babiš is a former member of the Czechoslovak Communist Party KSČ later turned businessman (with the business conglomerate Agrofert), and now additional owner of the country’s most important media and finance minister. Since several months, he staffs the state administration and also his party with his people, absolutely loyal to him, and some therefore call ANO the “Führerpartei.” There has been a high percentage of persons in his entourage who are “siloviki” (i.e. connected to police agencies) that formerly studied at Communist cadre schools, were members of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, or are suspected of having worked for the Czechoslovak Security Service StB. ANO’s party leader is still involved in court proceedings in Slovakia, because he denies the authenticity of state security documents of the Slovak Nation’s Memory Institute identifying him as collaborator for the Czechoslovak state security. There is even a former spy heading a Prague district mayor’s office. ANO has kept a low profile on its position towards Russia, and the new party’s vice president recently claimed ignorance on foreign policy.
The second party is the Czech Social-Democratic Party ČSSD – the party’s program can be called rather socialist, and its position toward Russia is comparable to the appeasing-position of the German SPD. Some have characterized their stances as “pro-Russian or neutral”. The current ČSSD foreign minister is one of the few western politicians who still speak to Lavrov. ČSSD-head and Prime Minister Sobotka keeps a very low profile on all questions related to Ukraine and Russia.
Plus, the concentration of pro-Russian servers and news-portals in the Czech Republic and Slovakia is also astonishing: there are over 40 websites with this mission, and several institutes engaged for the Russian cause – such as the ISSTRAS that in summer 2014 claimed Russia was not responsible for the 1940 Katyń-massacre, when the NKVD murdered over 20.000 Polish officers. One of the most notorious pro-Russian services in the Czech Republic has been Aeronet, active since summer 2014. For example, they have been propagating a theory that the November 2014 street protests against Czech President Zeman were organized by Americans (directly from the US embassy).
There are some other serious points to consider: The Czech Republic – in particular Prague – is considered Russia’s outpost in central Europe. The Russian embassy is the biggest base for Russian spying in the region. With its 125 people it is totally overdimensioned (in comparison, the Americans have 70 people there). The Czech security service for several years now has warned that a significant amount of those persons are spies. The Czech parliamentary deputy Gabal suggested to reduce this amount significantly.
Moreover, the Russian embassy in Prague has been actively engaged in actions against “Dragoon Ride” and spreads hard-core Russian propaganda. They retweet, of course, the statements of their boss Lavrov, the claims of the Russian propaganda agencies Tass, Ria Novosti, RT, Sputnik, its Czech outlet Sputnik ČR, (the Czech conspiracy-site) Protiproud or the pro-Russian AC24.cz. For example the embassy featured the AC24.cz fake that American forces, the FBI and the CIA are already in Ukraine. The embassy puts a great focus on war propaganda, i.e. Soviet heros and victories of WWII – in a mental preparation for the 9th May anniversary and further military actions. They also retweededthe link for the notorious video “I’am a Russian occupant” (initially spread by the Russian Vice-Prime Minister Dimitri Rogozin). The video indirectly called for an occupation of the Baltics, Central Asia and Ukraine. Additionally, the Czech media outlet Echo24.cz reported the Coordination Council for Russians living in the Czech Republic – directed by the Russian embassy – requested its members to compile lists of their “military-patriotic activities” until the end of April 2015. In regard to the situation this has to be interpreted as preparations of para-military and propagandistic units.
All those measures are components of Russia’s hybrid warfare.
Russia is trying to take over the Czech Republic.