Thursday

2nd Jul 2020

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 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe 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

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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.

On toppling statues

In Belgium, there are 443 statues, busts, plaques, and street names that celebrate that country's colonial past. As recently as 2005, school textbooks lauded Belgium for "civilising the black population, step-by-step."

News in Brief

  1. China to block Hong Kong exiles fleeing to UK
  2. EU stuck with Putin until 2036
  3. Malaysia pushes to keep selling palm oil to EU
  4. Austria raises corona alert on Western Balkans
  5. Turkey poised to convert Istanbul museum into mosque
  6. France leaves Nato operation after clash with Turkish ships
  7. EU Commission sets up skills agenda for next five years
  8. Bundestag gives floor to 'disgrace' Schröder on pipeline

Column

Small states in 'Big Power' games

Twenty years ago the most dominant foreign influence in Iceland was the United States, as it had been throughout the Cold War. Nowadays it is China.

Israel's annexation? - the EU's options

Regrettably, it is no longer a matter of if, but when Israel will begin to annex big parts of Palestine, including the Jordan Valley and all its 131 settlements.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  3. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis
  5. UNESDACircularity works, let’s all give it a chance
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers call for post-corona synergies between economic recovery and green transition

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us