Prague, Czech Republic – Milos Zeman is widely known for his pro-Russian views and enthusiasm in sparking controversies, and the Czech President struck again, this time by condemning an intelligence report on Moscow’s espionage activities.
Russian espionage intensifying in the Czech Republic
Last Monday, the Czech intelligence agency (BIS) released its annual report, in which it pointed out the growing espionage activities of Russian spies in the country, as well as Chinese agents. “The size of the Russian diplomatic mission and its high infiltration by people with links to Russian intelligence services increases the risk linked with the indiscretion of Czech citizens, namely politicians and civil servants”, BIS officials wrote.
The presence of Russian agents in the Czech Republic is no news and has been consistently highlighted by the BIS in its last annual reports. This year’s report however appears to go one step further and truly singled out Kremlin-backed espionage and hacking activities, prompting a group of 40 MP’s to call for the establishment of a special parliamentary committee to investigate the actions of Russian and Chinese spies in the country.
Earlier this year, the Czech Republic expelled several Russian diplomats stationed at the embassy in Prague over the Skripal poisoning case.
Moreover, the BIS spy agency also confirmed that two Russian cyber-espionage and hacking groups – known as Turla as APT28 – with close links to the Kremlin were responsible for an extensive hack of the Czech government over the course of 2016 and 2017. Although the source of the hack had long been suspected by experts, it revealed that “the Ministry of Foreign Affairs electronic communications system had been compromised at least since the beginning of 2016”, along with the Czech Ministry of Defense and members of the Armed Forces.
Zeman rejects the conclusions of the report
On Thursday evening, Czech President Milos Zeman lambasted the report, saying that it doesn’t contain any concrete evidence on Russian or Chinese spies established in the country. Talking on TV Barrandov, he described the BIS report as “blather” and its officials as amateurs.
Instead of addressing Russian interference and influence strategies in the EU and NATO country, M. Zeman turned his focus elsewhere and insisted that the Czech counterintelligence agency had failed to uncover and arrest Islamic terrorists on Czech soil despite their known presence in the country. He was mainly referring to the case of Samer Shehadeh, the former radicalized Prague Imam.
Accused of financing and promoting terrorism and terrorist organizations, M. Shehadeh had fled the Czech Republic a few years ago. He was recently captured in Jordan before being flown back to the Czech Republic a month ago. Currently in pre-trial custody, the Czech-born imam of Palestinian descent could face up to 15 years in prison.
The following day, head of BIS Michal Koudelka issued a strong statement rejecting Zeman’s assertions and describing his comments as “unfortunate”. He also pointed out that, contrary to M. Zeman’s claim, the Czech intelligence agency managed to expose and dismantle a Russian intelligence service operating in the country earlier this year.
The Czech Interior Minister Jan Hamacek also expressed his support for the work of the counterintelligence community and praised the achievements of the BIS.
A President brushing aside the conclusions of his own intelligence community on the topic of Russian interference and meddling… Doesn’t it remind you of anyone?