Czech Republic

  • Will the Kremlin’s Most Important Ally in Europe Be Reelected?

    One day remains until the second round of the Czech presidential election, and polls show a tie with 10 percent of voters undecided. The race pits the current president, Miloš Zeman, against the former chairman of the Academy of Sciences, Jiří Drahoš.

    New reports allege that there’s a hidden scheme to support pro-Russian president Zeman—at least 8 million Czech koruna has been provided by the secretive organization Friends of Miloš Zeman—in the tight race. The whole scheme is organized by Zeman’s chief adviser, who has direct Kremlin links.   

    Zeman is an anti-immigration populist who aims to win voters by supporting a referendum on the country’s continued membership in the EU and NATO, and by presenting himself as the only defender of the nation. He is well known for his vulgarity, and above all for his support of stronger ties between the Czech Republic and China and Russia. Jiří Drahoš, meanwhile, presents himself as an anti-populist candidate who intends to return dignity and a pro-Western orientation to the Prague Castle. He largely defines himself in opposition to Zeman.

    For Russia, this is an important election.

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  • Eastern Europe’s Illiberal Trends Bode Badly for Ukraine

    A recent increase in illiberal trends in a number of Eastern European countries threatens to erode support for Ukraine in the region. Just as important, it may lead to disillusionment inside Ukraine, where reformers have drawn on the region’s democracy building experience as guidance for Ukraine’s own reforms.

    Immediately after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Eastern European countries launched profound pro-market, pro-democratic, and pro-European transformations, quickly becoming members of NATO and the European Union. These young EU members were a source of inspiration for Ukraine’s pro-European activists and reformers at a time when Ukraine was perceived as “stuck in transition”—captured in the vicious cycle of an oligarchic economic model and corrupt political decision-making. Following the Revolution of Dignity, Ukraine made important progress in energy pricing, procurement, and increased public service transparency by introducing electronic declarations, but is still striving to catch up in areas like the rule of law and protection of property rights.

    But Eastern Europe may no longer serve as a model for Ukraine’s reforms: some of these countries’ own democratic institutions are now under threat.

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  • Just How Much Influence Does the Kremlin Have in Ukraine, Georgia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic?

    In a handful of Central and Eastern European countries, governments and the media have been slow and ineffective in countering the Kremlin’s propaganda and disinformation. The best defense? An active, engaged civil society.

    Those were some of the findings of the Kremlin Influence Index (KII), a report released in mid-May that analyzed the Russian government’s ability to affect the media environments in Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Georgia.

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  • From Russia with Hate: The Kremlin’s Support for Violent Extremism in Central Europe

    In 2016, the mayor of Ásotthalom, a small Hungarian town close to the country’s southern border, celebrated the opening of Gagarin Street with an obelisk to Soviet astronaut Yuri Gagarin and a speech about Russia’s greatness. The mayor was László Toroczkai, an extremist politician who serves as the vice president of the far-right Jobbik party; he is known for having organized vigilante groups to beat up refugees and banned Muslims and gay people from his village.

    A high-level diplomatic guest attended the event: the leader of the Russian Consulate to Hungary. This case raises two questions. First, why did a far-right politician who had previously been proud of his anti-communism celebrate a hero of the Soviet Union? Second, why was a Russian diplomat openly legitimizing a controversial politician?

    The short answer: Moscow sees the advantage of such “friendships” and invests in them.

    When it comes to Russian efforts to incite violence, one usually thinks of the “little green men” in Crimea, or Russia’s proxies in eastern Ukraine. But Political Capital has conducted an extensive research project on Russian actors and hate groups in Central Europe, and has found that Moscow built up diplomatic, political, and sometimes financial ties to violent organizations in Central and Eastern Europe as well, though those activities have received much less international attention.

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  • Czech Foreign Ministry Hacked: Russia Suspected

    From Robert Muller, Reuters: Hackers have breached dozens of email accounts at the Czech Foreign Ministry in an attack resembling one against the U.S. Democratic Party
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  • How Far Will Putin Dare to Go in 2017?

    From Brexit to Trump, 2016 was the year fake news became headline news. In Ukraine, however, it was old news. Ukrainians are living through the third winter of an ongoing hybrid war with Russia, a conflict driven to a remarkable degree by fake news.

    But fake news is only one of the many hybrid war techniques Moscow has honed in Ukraine before deploying them further afield. From information attacks to cyber warfare, Ukraine has been the primary testing ground for Russia’s emerging doctrine of hybrid hostilities since 2014. As the world wakes up to the dangers posed by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s revanchist revolution, Ukraine’s experience offers invaluable insights into the way modern Russia wages war. It may also hold the key to eventual victory.

    Western governments and the media are finally starting to take Russian hybrid aggression more seriously, as reflected by their slow but steady response to the fake news epidemic. The EU led the way in 2015 by setting up East StratCom, a disinformation debunking unit charged with exposing fakes promoted in the Russian media or spread through pro-Russian EU-based platforms. Individual EU member states are also taking action. The Czech Republic recently established a government-funded body tasked with combating Russian fakes, and Germany is exploring similar steps ahead of this autumn’s national elections. In early January 2017, Sweden’s most authoritative foreign policy institute released a report accusing Russia of waging information warfare against the Scandinavian nation. Even in the United States, President-elect Donald Trump finds himself confronted with bipartisan demands for a forceful response to Russian hybrid attacks.

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  • Czech Republic Claims Propaganda War by Russia and Sets Up Counter-Effort

    The Czech government has accused Russia of conducting a propaganda war on its soil and is setting up a unit to counter what it says are networks of pro-Moscow puppet groups.
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  • Reclaiming Central Europe

    Central Europe long served as an example of everything the European Union has craved—youthful energy, bold ideas, and unparalleled growth. Its countries have overcome Soviet rule more or less peacefully, but it didn’t happen instantaneously. The path toward democracy had been paved long before the collapse of communist regimes in the region in 1989.

    It was on one of those warm sunny days of August 1978 in the mountains of Karkonosze, bordering Czechoslovakia and Poland, that a group of dissidents from both countries decided to hold their first meeting. They held long discussions celebrating rare moments of freedom with cheap booze—united by hope, common values, and a common enemy—and plotted against Moscow.

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  • Russian Intelligence Waging Information War, Says Czech Security Service

    From the Security Information Service (BIS) of the Czech Republic:  In 2015, Chinese and Russian intelligence services were the most active in the Czech Republic.
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  • A Powerful Russian Weapon: The Spread of False Stories

    In Crimea, eastern Ukraine and now Syria, Mr. Putin has flaunted a modernized and more muscular military.
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