27th Oct 2016


Czech intelligence alarmed by Russian 'threat'

  • Prague: Home to 140 Russian "diplomats" (Photo: Nico Trinkhaus)

The Czech domestic intelligence agency, the Security Information Service (BIS), has just published its 2015 Annual Report.

Besides terrorism and other threats, it provides more detailed insight into its counterintelligence activities than previously. And, as in past years, so too in 2015, it says that "Chinese and Russian intelligence services were the most active in the Czech Republic”.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The surge in Chinese economic activity is being supported by the Czech government and by president Milos Zeman, but it comes with a sting in the tail.

“Chinese diplomatic, intelligence and economic entities focused on drawing on their success from 2014 … [and] actively worked on extending and maintaining Chinese influence in Czech politics and economy”, the BIS report said.

The elephant, or bear, in the room is, however, Russia.

“Russian intelligence services were the most active foreign intelligence services in the Czech Republic [in 2015]”, BIS said.

By contrast, “BIS did not identify any significant activities of intelligence services of other former Soviet Union countries or of partner intelligence services”.

One focal point is Russia’s diplomatic mission in Prague. It has 140 accredited diplomats, compared to some 70 US and 30 Chinese diplomats.

But, according to BIS, “a large number of Russian intelligence officers were active under diplomatic cover of the Russian embassy”.

“Intelligence officers under diplomatic cover were active also at the embassies of other states; however, the number of Russian intelligence officials was much higher. Unlike intelligence officials of partner states, Russian (and some other) intelligence officers did not declare their status to the BIS”, it added.

“Such clandestine behaviour, concealing the affiliation to an intelligence service, clearly signals activities threatening the security and other interests of the Czech Republic”.

The problem also exists elsewhere in the EU.

The Swedish intelligence agency, Sapo, estimates that one third of the 35 or so Russian diplomats accredited in Stockholm are intelligence officers.

Russian objectives

But the new BIS report goes further than ever in shedding light on the Kremlin’s objectives in the country.

It said that, last year, Russia concentrated on “information operations” with six goals.

The first was “weakening the strength of Czech media" (covert infiltration of Czech media and the internet, massive production of Russian propaganda and disinformation controlled by the state).

It aimed “strengthening the information resistance of the Russian audience (prefabricated disinformation from Czech sources for the Russian audience)”.

It also aimed at “exerting influence on the perceptions and thoughts of the Czech audience, weakening society’s will for resistance or confrontation (information and disinformation overload of the audience, relativisation of truth and objectivity, promoting the motto ‘everyone is lying’)”.

The fourth objective was “creating or promoting inter-societal and inter-political tensions in the Czech Republic (foundation of puppet organisations, covert and open support of populist or extremist subjects)”.

The next one was “disrupting the coherence and readiness of Nato and the EU (attempts to disrupt Czech-Polish relations, disinformation and alarming rumours defaming the US and Nato, disinformation creating a virtual threat of a war with Russia)”.

The final objective was “damaging the reputation of Ukraine and isolating the country internationally (involving Czech citizens and organisations in influence operations covertly led in Ukraine or against it by Russia)”.

The BIS also warned that, while Russia’s current operations centre around the Ukraine and Syria conflicts, “the infrastructure created for achieving these goals” is now a permanent feature in Czech life.

It said boldly that “these activities pose a threat to the Czech Republic, EU and Nato” and that the “infrastructure” can be “used to destabilise or manipulate Czech society or its political environment at any time, if Russia wishes to do so”.

Three takeaways

There are three main takeaways from the findings.

To begin with, there is an apparent shift towards public exposure of foreign hostile activities. In part, this is because the threat is bigger than before, but it is also due to the personal approach of the new BIS director, who was appointed just two weeks ago.

The director has led BIS counter-intelligence operations for a decade, and has worked in the Czech services since the early 1990s.

His new approach is still far from that of his colleagues in the Baltic states, who publish detailed evidence and even name individuals who pose a threat.

But it is a welcome trend, given that surveys indicate that one in four Czech people now no longer trust their government or independent media and that the Czech president’s chancellery has been deeply infiltrated by the Kremlin.

Next, the public warning of the Russian threat to Czech stability seems designed to put pressure on Czech decision-makers to take counter-measures.

Finally, the BIS findings suggest that Russia’s current activities are just the starting line for future operations.

In January 2018, the Czech Republic will hold a presidential election.

Zeman, the Kremlin’s trojan horse, will seek a second term. He is already popular and he can play a useful geopolitical role for Moscow in the central European region.

One can reasonably assume that the Kremlin will use its Czech infrastructure to do whatever it takes - including harsh intimidation and black propaganda - to keep its ally in Prague castle.

Jakub Janda is deputy director of European Values, a Czech think tank, where he also runs the Kremlin Watch Programme


Europe ready to tackle Greek debt relief

The Greek government has built and broadened alliances in EU institutions and member-states that acknowledge the need to restructure the debt and deliver another economic model for the eurozone.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ANCI LazioAnci Lazio Definetely has a lot to Celebrate This Year
  2. EU-China ForumDebating the Future of the EU-China Relations on 28 November in Prague
  3. COMECEMigrants: From Fear to Compassion
  4. Birdlife EuropeBusiness as Usual - Juncker Snubs Environment and Protects Broken CAP
  5. EFADraft Bill for a 2nd Scottish Independence Referendum
  6. UNICEFCalls on European Council to Address Plight of Refugee and Migrant Children
  7. ECTAJoin us on 9-10 November in Brussels and Discover the new EU Digital Landscape
  8. Access NowCan you Hear me now? Verizon’s Opportunity to Stand for Global Users
  9. Belgrade Security ForumMeaningful Dialogue Missing Not Only in the Balkans, but Throughout Europe
  10. EuropecheEU Fishing Sector Celebrates Sustainably Sourced Seafood in EU Parliament
  11. World VisionWomen and Girls Urge EU Leadership to Help end Gender-based Violence
  12. Belgrade Security ForumGet the Latest News and Updates on the Belgrade Security Forum @BelSecForum

Latest News

  1. Greece to probe UN allegations of illegal returns
  2. Poland defies EU on rule of law
  3. Belgium breaks Ceta deadlock
  4. Left MEPs thwarting Dieselgate probe, say right MEPs
  5. Cars should be allowed to exceed emissions limits, say experts
  6. EU case against Google is bad for developers
  7. Privacy activists mount court challenge to EU-US data pact
  8. Thousands of Nato soldiers go to Baltic states, Romania

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Crowdsourcing Week EuropeMaster Crowdsourcing, Crowdfunding and Innovation! Conference 21 November - 10% Discount Code CSWEU16
  2. EJCEU Parliament's Roadmap for Relations with Iran a Massive Missed Opportunity
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersFish Skin on Bare Skin: Turning Fish Waste into Sustainable Fashion
  4. CEDECOpportunities From the Creation of Synergies at Local Level in the Energy Transition
  5. ACCAFinTech Boom Needs Strong Guidance to Navigate Regulatory Hurdles
  6. Counter BalanceWhy the Investment Plan for Europe Does not Drive the Sustainable Energy Transition
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region Seeks to Make Its Voice Heard in the World
  8. Taipei EU OfficeCountries Voice Support for Taiwan's Participation in ICAO
  9. GoogleDid You Know Europe's Largest Dinosaur Gallery Is in Brussels? Check It Out Now
  10. IPHRHuman Rights in Uzbekistan After Karimov - Joint Statement