Czech Republic

Summary: The Czech Republic is a member of the EU and was one of the first former East Bloc countries to join NATO. The Czech stance on Russia remains ambivalent, but it is fully aware of threats Russia poses. The country’s energy sphere remains highly dependent on imports from Russia, which is also its largest non-EU trade partner. Russian intelligence’s presence in the Czech Republic is significant, and the country’s intelligence services are aware of this issue. Still, the Czech Republic remains dedicated to NATO, and its close proximity to the former Soviet Union makes the country’s government aware of threats Russia poses, particularly after the 2014 events in Ukraine.

I. Relationship Parameters

History: Due to the communist-era legacy, Czech public is historically sensitive to direct Russian (or any other foreign) operations on its territory.[1] Attempts in the Russian Federation to rewrite or falsify history about the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 are particularly delicate to Czechs. Documentary Warsaw Pact: Declassified Pages presenting the invasion as a protection against NATO aggression that was broadcasted on Russian state channel Russia-1 in 2015 angers Czechs as well as Slovaks. Recently, a controversial Russian memorial honouring “the fallen soldiers, internationalists, and peacemakers” built by group of Russian veterans in Prague cemetery has been removed after the negative reactions it received.

On the other hand, a considerable portion of population shares a pro-Russian sentiment. The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) is ,despite the past,[2] currently the third-most popular party in the country[3] and could return to power in coalition with the Social Democrats after the next parliamentary elections.

View of Russia: Neither the Czech elites nor the public have reached a consensus in their relationship with Russia. The Czech foreign orientation is trans-Atlantic, but the Czech government has no clear stance whether Russia is rather a threat or an important partner with whom cooperation needs to be enhanced. A strong and popular pro-Russian voice is the Czech president Miloš Zeman, on the contrary to the Czech Government, which defends the positions of EU and NATO.[4]

The pro-Russian president: In the aftermath of the Crimea crisis, Miloš Zeman denied the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine and endorsed claims that Kiev is ruled by fascists.[5] He has repeatedly said that Czech Republic should call for a withdrawal of EU sanctions against Russia and claimed that they have been damaging Czech farmers and the Czech industry.[6] Zeman, as well as former president Václav Klaus, has strong ties to Russian LUKoil. Both men maintain friendly relationship with Vladimir Yakunin, who is close to Vladimir Putin.[7]

Dispute over the US missile shield: After the Czech government entered negotiations with the US on the deployment of a radar system of US missile defence shield in 2007, Russia threatened to place short-range nuclear missiles on the borders with NATO pointing at the Czech Republic.[8] Russian president Vladimir Putin claimed it would lead to “an inevitable arms race”[9] and threatened to withdraw from the Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987. Just the day after the Czech Republic signed the agreement on establishing the radar, Russia curtailed oil supplies via the Druzhba pipeline in the country by 50% that had to be substituted by delivery through the TAL/IKL pipeline.[10] Accordingly, Russia considered the decision to drop the plans a diplomatic victory. Reactions in the Czech Republic were mixed.[11]

Secret services activity: Russian spies are thought to be one of the most active foreign agents operating in the Czech Republic. According to the Czech counter-intelligence agency BIS, most of them operate under a diplomatic cover of the overstaffed Russian embassy in Prague, counting almost 140 employees.[12] Some estimates claim that two thirds of them could be spies.[13] In its annual report (2015), BIS warned against their activities comprising operations in the context of information war, political, scientific-technical, and economic espionage. Russian secret services are also trying to cooperate with the Russian community in the Czech Republic (2014).[14] Russian federation is mentioned alongside China as the biggest threat in a state-run or state-supported cyber espionage.[15] In the past, some spies had to be expelled from the country, but Czech diplomacy have not intended to escalate the conflict publicly because of the possible reciprocal action from Moscow.[16]

Trade and investment: Russia is the largest non-EU market for Czech export and an important investor in the country. According to the Czech Export Strategy, it is among twelve priority countries.[17] Czech Republic is a common tourist destination for Russians as well. Currently, the economic exchange has been declining following the devaluation of ruble, recession of Russian economy, and economic sanctions. Especially the Ministry for Industry and Trade advocates for strengthening the economic cooperation with Russia.[18] The dark side is the penetration of Russian capital connected to the grey market into the Czech economy and the strengthening the Russian political influence in the Czech Republic.[19]

Energy: Approximately 73% of Czech gas and 68,5% of oil imports come from Russia, therefore, energy dependency on Russia is a key security issue. In the context of oil supplies curtailment in 2008, the Czech Republic has negotiated more oil to flow in via the Western European TAL pipeline when there are problems with the Druzhba pipeline.[20] Gazprom´s long-term contract with RWE Transgas runs through to the end of 2035.[21] The Czech Republic was active in the settlement of the Russia-Ukraine gas transit-fees dispute in 2009. Nevertheless, Russia´s reputation as a reliable supplier was damaged. Consequently, during its presidency in the Council of the EU in 2009, the Czech Republic was a vocal supporter of projects aimed at reducing the negative impacts of energy dependency on Russia, such as the so-called South corridor or the Third Energy Package.[22] Over the past few years, Russian Gazprom has continued in its efforts to control the transport, storage, and trade in the region. It has started to supply Czech customers with gas through the company Vemex owned by Gazprom and together with its Czech partner KKCG has increased the capacity of gas storage. Czech energetic sector is also of interest for Russian espionage in the country.

Regarding the nuclear energy dependency on Russia, TVEL, a subsidiary of Russian nuclear energy giant Rosatom is an exclusive supplier of fuel for the Temelin nuclear plant until 2020.

Military tensions: The Czech Republic has traditionally been trying to avoid exacerbation of its tense relations with Russia. In the context of the Ukraine crisis, the country has been more willing to boost military cooperation with its NATO allies.[23] 82% of Czechs approved the NATO convoy (Operation Dragoon Ride) drive through the country.[24]

Normative issues: Czech Republic is active in raising democracy and human rights issues at the EU level and supports a value-based approach on Russia, but it is rather passive in shaping EU policy on Russia. Activism is visible only when interests are at stake.

Eastern Partnership was launched at the Prague Summit in 2009. The Czech Republic shows support for the EU action in the region, including Minsk peace process and following economic sanctions, but does not take a active role in shaping common position.

View of Russia: According to the latest Eurobarometer, 39% of Czechs had a positive view of Russia.

STRATCOM: The Czech Republic has a seconded national expert working at the EEAS East STRATCOM Team. The Czech Republic have also sent its national expert to the NATO STRATCOM COE in late 2016.

II. Expert Assessment

Power Audit (2007):[25] Frosty pragmatists. The Czech Republic is oriented towards its business interest, while permanently raising concerns about democracy and human rights issues. For example, in 2006, it joined up countries supporting potential peace support mission in Moldova that, in the end, was not even discussed at the EU level. It is also active when Russia violates its commercial interests or diplomatic norms.

National Perspectives (2013): The Czech Republic follows a pragmatic ‘business as usual’ approach. Fear of Russia in the country is vastly overshadowed by their economic and energy relations. The government is sensitive to attempts of Russian companies to buy strategic Czech firms such as Czech Airlines or Transgas.

The Czech Republic directly supports the eastern dimension of EU external relations and prioritize countries such as Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and Belarus. There is a degree of a ‘Russia-first’ principle regarding support for their EU and NATO aspirations.

Anti-Russia/Russia-cautious political parties: The Civic Democratic Party (ODS). Pro-Russia – the Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD).[26]

European Foreign Policy Scorecards: Leader on support for a strong declaration at the Riga Eastern Partnership summit and for ratifying and implementing Association Agreements with Georgia and Moldova (2016), supporting democratic reforms in EaP countries through bilateral assistance, promoting political freedom in Russia (2015), pushing visa liberalization for Russia, Ukraine and Moldova (2013).[27]

III. Policy Documents

The Czech Republic’s Defence Strategy (2017):[28]

The security situation in Europe got significantly worse since 2012. The Russian Federation openly realizes its power ambitions on the east of Europe, with the use of military force. Yet it does not hesitate to break the norms of the international law, including violation of territorial integrity of neighbouring countries. It uses a set of hybrid campaign tools against the member countries of NATO and EU, including targeted disinformation activities and cyber attacks.

Concept of the Czech Republic´s Foreign Policy (2015):[29]

Russia destabilizes the European security architecture. But as a permanent member of the UN it remains a significant player in addressing numerous international issues, therefore we need to cooperate with it. Czech policy towards Russia will depend on the Russian Federation´s respect for international law and for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of its neighbours. Russia is potentially an important political and economic partner for the Czechia, as well as for the EU. In addition, Czech will seek to establish cultural cooperation and contacts with Russian civil society.

Security Strategy of the Czech Republic (2015):[30]

No direct mention of Russia, but indirect references. Declining security and stability in Europe´s flank regions and immediate neighbourhood could pose direct threat to the NATO or EU. It might be of classis military nature or in the form of hybrid warfare. Attempts of some states to carve out spheres of influence or to achieve a revision of existing international order through a military as well as non-military tools (including disinformation intelligence operations, unmarked military personnel, etc.) may be considered a threat.

Annual report of the Security Information Service (2015):[31]

As in previous years, Russian intelligence services were the most active foreign intelligence services in the Czech Republic. Many Russian intelligence officers were active under diplomatic cover of the Russian Embassy. Russian activities focused on the information war regarding the Ukrainian and Syrian conflicts and on political, scientific, technical and economic espionage. Information operations aimed to weaken the Czech media, influence perceptions, confuse the audience, promote tensions, disrupt NATO and EU alliances, isolate Ukraine. Russia and China pose the gravest threat to the Czech Republic as far as state-led or state-sponsored cyber-espionage campaigns are concerned. Russia was also mentioned in the context of offering information support to right-wing extremists, and violation of tax, regulatory and contract provisions by companies partly owned or directly controlled by Russian state administration.

Speeches by Foreign Minister (2015-2017):

According to Czech foreign minister Lubomír Zaorálek, Russian aggression and illegal annexation of Crimea is threatening Ukraine´s territorial integrity, sovereignty and stability. Czech Republic supports reforms and visa free regime for Ukraine.[32] Anti-Russian sanctions are effective.[33]


 

 

[1] https://www.bis.cz/vyrocni-zprava6c8d.html?ArticleID=1096

[2][2] https://foreignpolicy.com/2012/10/12/return-of-the-czech-communists/

[3] https://cvvm.soc.cas.cz/media/com_form2content/documents/c1/a7652/f3/pv170127.pdf

[4] https://www.osw.waw.pl/en/publikacje/analyses/2015-04-01/czech-dilemmas-over-russia-and-nato

[5] https://euobserver.com/opinion/133789

[6] https://www.radio.cz/en/section/news/president-zeman-says-czech-republic-should-call-for-end-to-eu-sanctions-against-russia

[7] https://www.stratfor.com/analysis/czech-republic-shifting-toward-west

[8] https://www.radio.cz/en/section/curraffrs/russia-threatens-to-aim-missiles-at-czech-republic-poland-if-us-installs-defence-shield

[9] https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/12/AR2007021200555.html

[10] Černoch a kol. The future of the Druzhba pipeline as a strategic challenge for the Czech Republic and Poland. International Institute of Political Science, Faculty of Social Studies. Muni Press, Brno 2012. ISBN 978-80-210-5926-9

[11] https://www.inss.org.il/uploadImages/systemFiles/INSSMemo155.02.2.Kalhousova.ENG.pdf

[12] Number can vary by several employees.

[13] https://www.respekt.cz/video/ondrej-kundra-v-cesku-jsou-stovky-ruskych-spionu

[14] https://www.bis.cz/vyrocni-zprava6c8d.html?ArticleID=1096

[15] https://www.bis.cz/vyrocni-zprava890a.html?ArticleID=1104

[16] https://praguemonitor.com/2016/09/06/ln-expelling-russian-spies-hard-czechs

[17] https://www.mpo.cz/dokument103015.html

[18] https://www.mpo.cz/en/guidepost/for-the-media/press-releases/minister-mladek-the-met-with-representatives-of-business-community-and-diplomacy-of-china–russia-and-azerbaijan-at-the-ie-fair-in-brno–153777/

[19] https://www.bis.cz/vyrocni-zprava890a.html?ArticleID=1104

[20] Černoch a kol. (2012), pg. 37

[21] https://www.gazpromexport.ru/en/partners/czech/

[22] https://www.eu2009.cz/assets/czech-presidency/programme-and-priorities/achievements/cz-pres_vysledky_cs_2.pdf

[23] https://www.stratfor.com/analysis/czech-republic-shifting-toward-west

[24] https://www.radio.cz/en/section/curraffrs/czechs-ready-to-join-operation-atlantic-resolve

[25] https://www.ecfr.eu/page/-/ECFR-02_A_POWER_AUDIT_OF_EU-RUSSIA_RELATIONS.pdf

[26] Dangerfield, M., Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia, chapter 11, in M. David, J. Gower and H. Haukkala, ‘National Perspectives on Russia: European Foreign Policy in the Making?’, Routledge 2013.

[27] https://www.ecfr.eu/scorecard

[28] https://www.mocr.army.cz/images/id_40001_50000/46088/OS.pdf

[29] https://www.mzv.cz/file/1574645/Concept_of_the_Czech_Republic_s_Foreign_Policy.pdf

[30] https://www.army.cz/images/id_8001_9000/8503/Security_Strategy_2015.pdf

[31] https://www.bis.cz/vyrocni-zprava890a.html?ArticleID=1104

[32] https://www.mzv.cz/jnp/cz/udalosti_a_media/tiskove_zpravy/x2017_02_06_ministr_zaoralek_na_fac.html

[33]https://www.mzv.cz/jnp/cz/o_ministerstvu/archivy/clanky_a_projevy_ministru/clanky_a_projevy_ministra_zaoralka_2015/valku_s_ruskem_nechceme.html