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Czechia

Czechia

  • The Czech Republic is one of the leading countries regarding countering Russian subversive influence; it understands the threat and actively reacts on the state level.
  • Civil society in the Czech Republic is active and has succeeded in placing the topic on the public agenda.
  • The position of the Czech Republic is undermined by its President Miloš, Zeman, who is considered one of Russia´s most prominent allies in Europe.

Relations with the Russian Federation


The awakened. These countries have significantly updated their policies and concerns following Russian aggression against Ukraine.[1]

The stance of the Czech Republic towards Russia changed significantly following the crisis in Ukraine and Russia´s subsequent annexation of Crimea. Despite the ambivalent positions of some individual politicians, as well as a high dependence on imports from Russia, the country is fully aware of the threats Russia poses. However, pro-Russian president Miloš Zeman playes a significant role in maintaining relations with the Kremlin, having denied the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine after the Crimean annexation, and repeatedly criticising the EU sanctions against Russia, Zeman also retaind strong ties to Russian business.[2]

Political acknowledgement of the threat


Czech strategy documents are quite sophisticated in terms of their identification and description of Russian influence and disinformation operations. The Defence Strategy from 2017[3] clearly states that the Russian Federation uses a set of hybrid campaign tools against the member states of NATO and the EU, including targeted disinformation activities and cyber-attacks. The Security Strategy from 2015[4] already mentioned the hypothetical threat of hybrid warfare and disinformation intelligence operations, although without specifically naming Russia as the perpetrator. In the Long Term Perspective for Defence 2030[5], the Czech Ministry of Defence expressed expectations that the misuse of information, technologies and the media will play a significant role in the future and that the international misuse of the media for information warfare will grow.

However, the most fundamental document was the product of the National Security Audit, conducted by the government in 2016, with a chapter devoted to the influence of foreign powers. It includes a SWOT analysis summarizing the strong and weak aspects of the Czech Republic´s vulnerability and presents specific recommendations for enhancing resilience, including the establishment of centres for the evaluation of disinformation campaigns within relevant authorities, the creation of a system of education for public officials to make them more resilient towards foreign influence, and active media strategies for important democratic institutions or measures concerning media law.

In the 2017 Czech legislative elections, the far-right party Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) gained 22 seats in the 200-seat Chamber of Deputies. The party, led by Tomio Okamura, is very friendly towards the Kremlin, as illustrated by the fact that 5 of its MPs are members of a Facebook group called “We want out of the EU and NATO - Russia is our true friend”.[6] One of them, Radek Koten, was elected as the chairman of the Chamber Security Committee.[7] Many of the current Czech MPs travel to the occupied territories of Ukraine or to Russia and use the benefits of mutual legitimization with the Russian regime.[8]

In the government coalition negotiations, it also seems that the stance of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Slovakia, a traditional Russian ally, is going to be of significant importance. They operate as proxies of the President and often make attempts to block any meaningful responses. However, the first and second government of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš included cyber and hybrid threats areas into their program and thus formally these policies should continue.

 
Government activities against Russian influence & disinformation


Based on these recommendations, the Centre against Terrorism and Hybrid Threats was established in 2016 within the Czech Ministry of Interior and begun operating in January 2017. The Centre monitors threats related to the internal security of the Czech Republic, including disinformation campaigns.[9] It is also tasked with advising the government on threats in the information space and publicly debunking disinformation about domestic issues. It continues in its efforts despite the political backlash from President Zeman, who has accused the Centre of censorship.[10]

In addition, the Czech government has a seconded-national expert at the EEAS East STRATCOM team in Brussels as well as an expert at the NATO STRATCOM COE in Riga (since 2016). It has not joined as a sponsoring nation.

The approach of intelligence agencies to Russian interference


The Czech intelligence services have been forced to acknowledge the existence of Russian threats due to the Kremlin´s intensive espionage activities on Czech soil. Russian spies are thought to be some of the most active foreign agents operating in the Czech Republic. They also try to cooperate with the Russian community in the country. Some of these agents have had to be expelled from the Czech Republic, although the Czech Foreign Ministry has not escalated the conflict publicly thanks to possible reciprocations from Moscow.[11]

In its Annual report for 2015[12], the Czech Security Information Service (BIS) warns against Russian activities, focusing on the information war regarding the Ukrainian and Syrian conflicts and on political, scientific, technical and economic espionage. According to the Report, these information operations aim to weaken the Czech media, influence perceptions, confuse the audience, promote tensions, disrupt NATO and EU alliances and isolate Ukraine. Together with China, Russia has been accused of being the gravest threat as far as state-led or state-sponsored cyber-espionage campaigns are concerned.

The Annual Report for 2016 maintains a similar perspective on Russian disinformation and hostile influence operations. The report claims that the BIS is continuing its investigation of cyber-attacks against two Czech state authorities and reiterates the ongoing hybrid campaign against Ukraine, NATO and the EU. The report states, “As in the previous period, Russia has its interest in influencing Czech social and political internal integrity and thus weakening the EU and NATO (counting Russian activities in recent years in cyberspace, propaganda, operations in Ukraine, Syria, abduction of Estonian intelligence officer from Estonia to Russia, Russian border operations in Europe, it is clear that the EU and NATO are facing a Russian hybrid campaign) ".[13]

Activities of the non-governmental sector


Since the annexation of Crimea, Czech civil society has been notably active in terms of tackling disinformation. However ad hoc and reactionary their responses, many non-governmental organizations are well-established and have proven especially successful in monitoring disinformation circulated in the media space and in debunking fake reports.

The biggest shortage of activities exists in the areas of security issues, journalism, and media literacy. Attempts to promote educational initiatives in schools are rather small and none are systematic. These projects and organizations also often fall short in their coordination.

The European Values think-tank established the Kremlin Watch programme in 2015, which regularly fact-checks news reports originating in pro-Kremlin media, produces bi-weekly reports on disinformation trends and narratives spread in the Czech Republic, and cooperates with the EEAS Stratcom East Team as well as with other foreign partners on various projects. It also focuses on policy development and endeavours to motivate the state administration into taking further steps towards tackling disinformation campaigns.

The Association for International Affairs launched a Czech version of the Ukrainian website StopFake.org in October 2016, dedicated to verifying disinformation about the conflict in Ukraine. The Prague Security Studies Institute launched an Initiative to raise awareness about pro-Russian disinformation in 2015: it publishes articles and reports on the topic and organizes events and debates for both experts and the public.[14] People in Need produced an education pamphlets for teachers on Russian disinformation.[15] Likewise, the Czech academic sphere has not remained behind. The Department of Political Science at the Faculty of Social Studies at the Masaryk University in Brno analyses manipulation techniques and emotions used by pro-Kremlin disinformation sources and provides media literacy training. It also launched a student project called zvolsi.info, which focuses on raising media literacy amongst Czech and Slovak high school students. Similarly, the student project stuzak.cz is a hub for humanities´ students presenting interactive workshops in secondary schools, that focus on various socio-scientific disciplines. The aim, closely linked to media literacy, is to raise interest in civic-related themes among youth and to improve their level of socio-scientific education.[16]


 



[1] “How do European democracies react to Russian aggression”. European Values. 22 April 2017. Available at: http://www.europeanvalues.net/russia/ 
[2] „Vulnerability Index“. GLOBSEC Policy Institute. April 2017. Available at: http://www.globsec.org/upload/documents/vulnerability-index/globsec-vulnerability-index.pdf 
[3] “Defence Strategy of the Czech Republic.” Ministry of Defence of the Czech Republic. 2017. Available at:  http://www.mocr.army.cz/images/id_40001_50000/46088/OS.pdf 
[4] “Security Strategy of the Czech Republic.” Ministry of Defence of the Czech Republic. 2015. Available at: http://www.army.cz/images/id_8001_9000/8503/Security_Strategy_2015.pdf 
[5] “The Long Term Perspective for Defence 2030.” Ministry of Defence of the Czech Republic. 2015. Available at: http://www.army.cz/images/id_8001_9000/8503/THE_LONG_TERM_PERSPECTIVE_FOR_DEFENCE_2030.pdf 
[6] https://zpravy.aktualne.cz/domaci/chteji-z-eu-i-nato-a-fandi-putinovi-seznamte-se-s-okamurovym/r~e979ebb8bb2111e7811f002590604f2e/ 
[7] http://www.ceskenoviny.cz/zpravy/bezpecnostni-vybor-povede-koten-spd-porazil-lidovce-bartoska/1556588 
[8] http://www.europeanvalues.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Legitimization-of-the-Russian-Federation-regime-by-the-members-of-parliament-of-the-Czech-Republic.pdf 
[9] “Centre Against Terrorism and Hybrid Threats.” Ministry of the Interior of the Czech Republic. 2017. Available at: http://www.mvcr.cz/cthh/clanek/centre-against-terrorism-and-hybrid-threats.aspx 
[10] “Czech ‘hybrid threats’ center under fire from country’s own president”. Reuters. 4 January 2017. Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-czech-security-hybrid-idUSKBN14O227 
[11] “LN: Expelling of Russian spies is hard for Czechs”. Prague Daily Monitor. 6 September 2016. Available at: http://praguemonitor.com/2016/09/06/ln-expelling-russian-spies-hard-czechs 
[12] “Annual report of the Security Information Service for 2015.” Security Information Service (BIS). 2016. Available at: https://www.bis.cz/vyrocni-zprava890a.html?ArticleID=1104 
[13] https://www.bis.cz/vyrocni-zprava16e1.html?ArticleID=1136 
[14] “Russia’s influence activities in CEE”. Prague Security Studies Institute. Available at:  http://www.pssi.cz/russia-s-influence-activities-in-cee 
[15] “One World in Schools”. People in Need. Available at: https://www.jsns.cz/cz/article/111/What_is_jsns.html?id=243 
[16] https://stuzak.cz/ 

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