Lidové noviny reveals the scale of Moscow’s influence and intelligence gathering in the Czech Republic
Prague, May 15 (ČTK) — The latest developments in Ukraine have stepped up the activities of Russian agents in the West, including the Czech Republic, which is an extremely interesting target for Russian spies, daily Lidové noviny (LN) writes today.
“It is no secret that the Czech Republic is an extremely interesting destination for the Russian services,” Karel Randák, former head of the Czech civilian counter-intelligence, is quoted as saying.
“A large Russian community lives here, and there are interesting investment opportunities here,” he added.
“Whenever they succeed in proving we are not a firm link of the EU and NATO, it is a victory for them,” Andor Šándor, former head of the military counter-intelligence, told the paper.
The Czech Security Information Service (BIS) counter-intelligence has repeatedly warned of the presence of Russian agents, LN writes.
Various individuals ensure the transfer of sensitive information to Moscow, it adds.
The opportunity to conduct business freely is a novelty compared with the era of bipolar division of the world, LN writes, adding that agents make the most of the situation.
“They establish firms with English names and seats in Luxembourg and elsewhere in the world. They try to prevent blowing their cover by frequently relocating and changing their name,” Karel Pacner, a writer focusing on modern history and spying, is quoted as saying.
The Russian secret services gather details on some specific products. Earlier this week, the Czech firm Era won a NATO tender for the delivery of two Vera passive surveillance systems it manufactures.
“The GRU military intelligence is certainly interested in it, primarily in the radar’s technical details,” Randák said.
“It wants to know where the equipment will be deployed within NATO, what area it will cover, and who operate them,” he added.
Security analysts agree that in the Czech Republic, the Russian services are not primarily interested in the collection of strategic information such as that from NATO, as it only rarely comes here. They mainly try to sway the public opinion, LN writes.
This is exemplified by the failed project of the U.S. radar that was to be stationed in central Bohemia and the civic groups that were opposed to it, it adds.
Their funding attracted the attention of BIS. Its annual 2007 report says Russian spies concentrated their effort on the affair, LN writes.
“They use various activist movements as useful idiots. Under the veil of ‘make love, not war,’ they paid various anti-radar protests,” a Czech diplomat who requested anonymity told the paper.
The project was eventually scrapped by President Barack Obama’s administration in 2009.
Despite the security risks, Czech exporters advocate more intensive cooperation with Russia. This includes the richest Czech, Petr Kellner, who owns the Russian electronic chain Eldorado, LN writes.
The Russian firm Atomstroyexport is also interested in the completion of the Czech nuclear power plant Temelín.
“[Russians] assembled a fleet of Czech subcontractors behind the main Russian supplier that was the icebreaker, whereby they gained the Czech business sphere,” a former Czech senior official is quoted as saying.
“Where the Soviet soldier’s boot failed, the oil ruble succeeded,” Pacner said about Czech business people’s positive attitude to Russia.
The paper writes that former President Václav Klaus’ publication activity is also sponsored by Russians, namely oil giant Lukoil.
Klaus symbolically attended the Victory Day celebrations at the Russian Embassy May 9, which was boycotted by all other Czech representatives in protest against Russia’s policy on Ukraine.