Thursday

20th Sep 2018

Opinion

Czech president is Russia's Trojan Horse

  • Zeman (l) and Putin (r). The Czech Republic is the only Nato ally whose president denies that Russia has a military presence in Ukraine. (Photo: kremlin.ru)

The Kremlin has many friends in Europe - Nigel Farage in the UK, France’s Marine Le Pen and the AfD party in Germany to name a few.

Hardly any of them hold executive positions, however.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • One might ask, what the hell is going on in Prague? (Photo: Moyan_Brenn)

This is what one of Russia’s best friends, Czech president Milos Zeman, brings to the table.

Zeman, who will stay in office until at least early 2018, is an active part of the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign against EU and Nato states.

The Czech Republic is the only Nato ally whose president denies that Russia has a military presence in Ukraine. “I take seriously the statement of [Russian] foreign minister Sergei Lavrov that there are no Russian troops [there],” Zeman has said on the record.

That is contrary to the findings of the Czech intelligence services, of Nato and of the OSCE, the international monitors in Ukraine.

Zeman also supports lifting of Western sanctions on Russia. He says it every time he meets Russian media.

Small wonder that he is a star on Russian propaganda outlets. According to a recent analysis of Russian-language media conducted by Semantic Visions, a Czech consultancy, Zeman was quoted 34 times more than German president Joachim Gauck in the past three years.

The Czech head is portrayed as one of the few EU leaders who refused to be “a puppet of the United States.”

Zeman appears to like this role. He has, on two occasions, publicly announced that he had banned the US ambassador to the Czech Republic from entering his castle.

His pro-Russia rhetoric also includes attacks on Ukraine.

He has endorsed Russian propaganda claims that Kiev is ruled by fascists. He has said Ukraine is trying to artificially alter its geopolitical orientation and that EU aid for Ukraine is throwing money down the drain.

He told Chinese TV that the US and the EU used to dictate the Czech Republic’s behaviour but that this is no longer the case.

He even endorsed the Kremlin’s treatment of Nadiya Savchenko, a Ukrainian pilot who was kidnapped in Ukraine and condemned in a show trial in Russia.

Huge popularity

One might ask, what the hell is going on in Prague?

To understand Zeman better, one should know that his campaign manager and, later, his chief economic adviser, Martin Nejedly, used to be a top executive at Lukoil, a Russian oil company with close ties to the Kremlin.

Czech intelligence services mistrust Zeman’s chancellery so much that they have denied top security clearance to his chief of staff and to his top military aide.

But the Czech government has tolerated his behaviour because of his popularity.

He has few formal powers, but he has a big political platform.

His anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic populism (he called the migration crisis “an invasion” of Europe) has won him a huge 56 percent approval rating.

A hero for the Communist Party

He wields strong influence inside the ruling and socially conservative Social-Democratic party, more and more of whose MPs are parroting Zeman’s pro-Russia statements.

He is also a hero for the pro-Russia Communist Party, which wins about 15 percent of seats in elections.

If he joined forces with Andrej Babis, the Czech Republic’s most powerful man, they could build the most resilient pro-Russian political infrastructure in any Nato or EU nation.

Babis is the Czech finance minister. He is also an oligarch who is one of the country’s richest men and most popular politicians.

Zeman and Babis already get along quite well and refrain from criticising each other in public.

The next presidential elections are in January 2018.

If Zeman holds on to power he might drag Babis into his pro-Russian orbit. This informal coalition could mark a geopolitical shift in the Czech Republic which would be hard to reverse.

Jakub Janda is deputy director of European Values, a think tank in Prague

Czech intelligence alarmed by Russian 'threat'

Russian intelligence has created an "infrastructure" of propaganda channels and puppet groups that could be used to "destabilise or manipulate Czech society" at any time.

EU myth-busters set for budget upgrade

One year after its launch, East Stratcom, the EU’s “tiny” counter-propaganda cell, has created a 20,000-strong following and could get a €1 million budget.

News in Brief

  1. EU-Arab League summit proposed for February in Egypt
  2. Stop 'migration blame-game', Tusk tells EU leaders
  3. McDonald's Luxembourg tax deal 'compatible' with EU rules
  4. Danish bank CEO resigns in Russia scandal
  5. Germany seeks to join EU's eastern energy club
  6. UK universities top EU in Chinese ranking
  7. Poland seeks 'Fort Trump' US military base
  8. EU stops Irish case after Apple pays €13bn

Will the centre-right stand up for EU values?

Time for Christian Democrats in the EP to show where they stand on Hungary and on the EU's founding principles, say Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in a joint text.

Europe needs more modern leadership

If Europe wants to be a global leader, our political leadership has to change dramatically. Power needs a new face in Europe, and it needs to get legitimacy from the people, argues liberal MEP Sophie in 't Veld.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  4. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  5. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  6. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  7. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  8. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  9. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  10. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  12. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  2. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  4. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  5. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  8. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  10. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  12. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us