Czech Republic–Russia relations

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Czech Republic–Russia relations
Map indicating locations of Czech Republic and Russia

Czech Republic

Russia

Czech Republic–Russia relations are the bilateral foreign relations between the Czech Republic and the Russian Federation. Relations have substantially deteriorated in recent years due to events such as the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the poisoning of Sergei Skripal in 2018.

Both countries are full members of the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. The Czech Republic has an embassy in Moscow, and two consulates general (in Saint Petersburg and Yekaterinburg). The Russian Federation has an embassy in Prague, and two consulate generals (in Brno and Karlovy Vary).

History[edit]

Background[edit]

During the entire medieval period and early modern period, the Czech lands, in the form of Duchy of Bohemia and Kingdom of Bohemia, were aligned with the Catholic Holy Roman Empire and later Austrian Empire.

Czechoslovakia recognized the Soviet Union de jure and the countries established diplomatic relations in June 1934. On 16 May 1935, the Czechoslovak–Soviet Treaty of Mutual Assistance was signed between the two governments that followed the similar treaty between the USSR and France, which was Czechoslovakia's major ally.[1]

Following the German occupation of Czechoslovakia and the establishment of the pro-German Slovak state in March 1939, the Soviet Union promptly recognized the new status quo and terminated diplomatic relations with Czech representatives. Shortly after the Munich Agreement, many Czechoslovak Communists gained asylum in the Soviet Union, however hundreds of non-communist refugees were sent to labour camps.[2]

Following World War II and the USSR-backed pro-Soviet coup d'état in February 1948, Czechoslovakia became part of the Soviet-led Eastern Bloc and was one of the founding members of the Warsaw Pact in May 1955. In August 1968, in response to the Prague Spring pro-democracy reforms of the Czech government, the Soviet-led invasion re-established the hardline Communist rule by force. 108 Czechs and Slovaks died and approximately 500 were wounded as a direct result of the invasion. This damaged relations between the two countries.

1989–2020[edit]

Following the Velvet Revolution of 1989 and the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in January 1993, Russia immediately recognized the independent Czech Republic and the two states established diplomatic relations on 1 January 1993.[3] During an official visit by Russia′s president Boris Yeltsin to the Czech Republic in August 1993, the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation was signed by Yeltsin and Czech president Václav Havel.[3]

The independent Czech Republic joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004 and re-aligned its foreign policy and economic interests with Western allies.

In December 2011, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev visited Prague, to sign economic contracts and cultural exchange. Both countries consider each other as an important economic partner.

As a response to the Russian military intervention in Ukraine from 2014, the Czech Republic has participated in enacting economic sanctions against Russia. In March 2018, the Czech Republic expelled three Russian diplomats as a reaction to the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in the United Kingdom.[4]

In March 2018, the Czech Republic arrested and extradited a Russian hacker into the United States on American request.[5]

In late 2010s, the controversy about the statue of Ivan Konev in Prague has been one of the issues that caught public attention in this area.[6]

Miloš Zeman, president of the Czech Republic from March 2013, has been described as "one of the European Union's most Kremlin-friendly leaders", with some of his close aides said to be agents of Russian intelligence.[7][8] Zeman has supported Russia on issues such as the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, thereby defying NATO′s and EU′s official policies.[9]

2021–present[edit]

On 17 April 2021, the Czech prime minister Andrej Babiš announced that the Czech Republic was expelling 18 Russian diplomats it had identified as GRU and SVR spies — after the Czech intelligence agencies had concluded that Russian military intelligence officers, namely members of Russian military intelligence GRU's unit 29155, were involved in two massive ammunition depot explosions in Vrbětice (part of Vlachovice), near the Czech-Slovak border, in October 2014.[10] Shortly after, the Czech Republic formally informed the NATO allies on the matter and requested a joint statement at the NATO level as well as a follow-up North Atlantic Council meeting "to discuss other possible coordinated steps".[11] In the wake of the expulsion, Bloomberg News commented that "in a rare act of unity, Zeman took the government’s side against Putin".[12] The Russian government responded by expelling 20 Czech diplomats.[13]

Following Russia's own diplomatic response of expelling Czech diplomats, the newly appointed Czech foreign minister Jakub Kulhánek on 21 April gave the Russian government an ultimatum saying Russia had until 12 p.m. the next day to allow the return of all the Czech diplomats it had expelled from Moscow back to the Czech Embassy in Moscow and if that did not happen "he would cut the number of Russian Embassy staff in Prague so it would correspond to the current situation at the Czech Embassy in Moscow".[14] On 22 April, as Russia refused to abide with the Czech demands in returning Czech staff to the Embassy in Moscow, the Czech foreign ministry announced it was reducing and capping the number of staff at the Russian Embassy in Prague at the current number of their staff in Moscow; the Russian embassy staff were required to leave the Czech Republic by 31 May 2021.[15] The Czech government response was followed with support by a number of other EU countries expelling Russia′s diplomatic personnel.[16][17][18][19] The Russian government responded by setting the Czech Republic on its 'unfriendly states list' along the US. Listed states on the list are limited of hiring Russian local employers for their respected embassy, with the Czech embassy only being able to hire up to 19 Russian locals with many former local employee stuffing an entire Czech hospitality and business centre in Moscow, while the US embassy in comparison wasn't allowed to hire anyone since 2021[20][21]

Trade[edit]

Russian gas pipelines in Europe

The value of trade between the Czech Republic and Russia is in billions of US dollars. Most imports from Russia into the Czech Republic are raw materials such as fuels and metals; exports from the Czech Republic to Russia are mostly manufactured products.[22]

However, Russia was a smaller trade partner for the Czech Republic in 2016 following its economic downturn in 2015, as it was the destination of only 1.7% for Czech exports in 2016.[23] The vast majority of exports from the Czech Republic go to other EU members[24] (84.1% in 2016)[23] while most imports into the Czech Republic come from other EU members (76,6% in 2013)[25] or from China (7,3% in 2016).[26] Despite that Czech-Russian trade was still higher than with US trade, reaching 9.21 billion US dollar for the Czech Republic in 2019. Czech exports to Russia grew 38.8% in 2016 to 2019.[27]

Public opinion[edit]

A caricature of a Russian matryoshka doll as a symbol of communism in a museum in Prague

While economic relations were good prior to the 2014 sanctions, and the Czech Republic is a common tourist destination for Russians, the Czech people themselves tend to be distrustful of Russia due to the Soviet invasion of 1968, and tend to have a negative opinion of Russians.[28] Russia remains continuously among the most negatively perceived countries among Czechs in polls conducted since 1991, and 26% of Czechs responded that they have a positive opinion about Russia in November 2016. However the numbers are still improving overall where as in 1993, Russia was only 18% favorable. And the 2016 poll shows that some Eastern European countries like Ukraine were gaining only 22% in positive responses too, putting political aspects into doubt.[29]

Russia′s espionage and other illicit activity in Czech Republic[edit]

The 2006 annual report by the Czech intelligence agency, Security Information Service (BIS), spoke of high levels of Russian espionage in the Czech Republic and highlighted "security risks including an increasing influence by organized crime in the state sector".[30] The report also stated that "intelligence services of the Russian Federation operating on Czech territory organize media campaigns and other activities supporting Russian interests" and that the Czech Republic has been targeted by Russia due to its membership in NATO and the EU reflecting Russia's interests to acquire information about the functioning of these institutions.[30] Russian influence has especially targeted Russian economic interests in the Czech Republic[31] (i.e. the energy sector),[30] but has also infiltrated into politics and media.[32] The Russian intelligence activity focused on pro-Russian propaganda and on political, scientific, technical and economic espionage.[32]

In 2009, two Russian diplomats were expelled from the Czech Republic due to espionage.[33] As of 2015, according to the Security Information Service, the most active foreign espionage in the Czech Republic originated from Russia, followed by China.

As of 2017, there were 140 Russian nationals accredited in the Czech Republic as diplomats, a disproportionately large number compared to other countries, and also compared to only 65 Czech diplomats in Russia.[34] Senior representatives of the 40,000-strong ethnic Russian community in the Czech Republic has accused the Russian Embassy of attempting to recruit the community′s members as agents of influence, setting up the Coordinating Council of the Russian Compatriots in the Czech Republic.[35]

In December 2018, the BIS revealed that it prevented the activity of dozens of Russian spies during the previous five years, and earlier that year it uncovered and broke up a network of Russian intelligence informants.[36][37]

According to a 2016 study by the Czech Masaryk University in Brno, pro-Russian websites Sputnik and Parlamentní listy are major pro-Russian in the Czech Republic; the latter of which is described by the report as a particular source of disinformation along with several other publications.[38] Russian information war focuses on spreading misinformation about the EU and NATO, trying to change public perception of Russia and bribing local politicians.[34] Czech officials estimate that the Russian government is behind approximately 40 Czech-language websites presenting radical views, conspiracy theories and inaccurate reports.[39] According to Tomáš Prouza, the "key goal of Russian propaganda in the Czech Republic is to sow doubts into the minds of the people that democracy is the best system to organize a country, to build negative images of the European Union and NATO, and [to] discourage people from participation in the democratic processes".[39]

In 2017, a special unit, the Centre Against Terrorism and Hybrid Threats, was founded under the Ministry of the Interior to counter the threats from Russia among other issues.[39] Czech investigative journalists publish an up-to date list of pro-Russian publications.[40]

Russians in the Czech Republic[edit]

Immigration[edit]

There is an immigrant minority of 33 970 Russian citizens with a residence permit in the Czech Republic for a period of 12 months or more, as of 2016. It is the fourth largest immigrant group after Slovaks, Ukrainians and Vietnamese, followed by Germans.[41] Russians have the largest proportion of university educated individuals among other immigrant groups.[42] Most incoming Russians are members of the middle or upper classes and their reasons for migration into the Czech Republic are desire for a life in the European Union, better healthcare in the Czech Republic, high levels of corruption in Russia and also political reasons. Russian immigrants have large proportion of business people in comparison with other immigrant groups.[43]

Tourism[edit]

The Czech Republic is a popular destination for Russian tourists. In 2017, over 550,000 Russians visited the country.[44]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Institute of Marxism–Leninism of the CPCz CC, Institute of Marxism–Leninism of the CPS CC. An Outline of the History of the CPCz. Prague: Orbis Press Agency, 1980. p. 158.
  2. ^ Dvořák, Jan; Horník, Jan; Hradilek, Adam. "Portréty deportovaných ve světle dokumentů NKVD" (PDF). ÚSTR. Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  3. ^ a b "Отношения с Российской Федерацией". www.mzv.cz/moscow/ (in Russian). Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  4. ^ Julian Borger, Patrick Wintour, Heather Stewart. Czechs expel three Russian diplomats after UK chemical attack. Reuters. Published on 26 March 2018.
  5. ^ Czech Republic defies Russia, extradites 'hacker' to United States. Deutsche Welle. 30.03.2018.
  6. ^ Moscow, Reuters in (2020-04-10). "Russia opens criminal case after Czech officials remove Soviet statue". the Guardian. Retrieved 2021-07-28.
  7. ^ "Czech PM's Remarks On 2014 Blasts Trigger Outrage, Underscore Split Over Russia Ties". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 20 April 2021. Retrieved 21 April 2021.
  8. ^ "How Czech President Miloš Zeman Became Putin's Man". observer.com. 26 January 2018. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  9. ^ "Czech president Milos Zeman in war of words over Russia stance". Financial Times. 9 February 2015. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  10. ^ "Czech Republic Expels 18 Russian Diplomats Over Depot Blast; Searches For Skripal Poisoning Suspects". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 17 April 2021. Retrieved April 18, 2021.
  11. ^ "Czech Republic informs NATO allies why it expelled Russian embassy staff". Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Czech Republic. 2021-04-21. Retrieved 2021-04-22.
  12. ^ "Russia's Circle of Friends Just Got Smaller in East Europe". Bloomberg News. 2021-04-22. Retrieved 2021-04-23.
  13. ^ "Livid Russia expels 20 Czechs after blast blamed on Skripal suspects". Reuters. 18 April 2021. Retrieved 6 September 2021.
  14. ^ "Prague Gives Moscow Ultimatum As Diplomatic Spat Escalates". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 21 April 2021. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  15. ^ "Czechia will reduce and cap the number of Russian embassy workers". Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Czech Republic. 2021-04-22. Retrieved 2021-04-22.
  16. ^ "Slovakia expels three Russian embassy staff in solidarity with Czechs". Reuters. 2021-04-22. Retrieved 2021-04-23.
  17. ^ "Baltic nations expel Russian diplomats in support of Czech Republic". Euronews. 2021-04-23. Retrieved 2021-04-24.
  18. ^ "Moscow, Prague To Keep Equal Number Of Staff At Each Other's Embassies, Says Czech Foreign Minister". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 2021-04-23. Retrieved 2021-04-24.
  19. ^ "EU's Baltic states expel four Russian diplomats in solidarity with Prague". France 24. 2021-04-23. Retrieved 2021-04-24.
  20. ^ "Russia deems U.S., Czech Republic 'unfriendly', limits embassy hires".
  21. ^ "Russia lists US, Czech Republic as 'unfriendly states'". Retrieved 6 September 2021.
  22. ^ Rusko: Obchodní a ekonomická spolupráce s ČR (Czech). BusinessInfo.cz. 23. 6. 2017.
  23. ^ a b Vyvážené zboží míří z 84 procent do EU. Do Ruska jde minimum. ČT24. 13. 9. 2016.
  24. ^ FIELD LISTING :: EXPORTS - PARTNERS. CIA The World Factbook.
  25. ^ Podíl dovozu ze zemí EU 28 na celkovém dovozu (%) (Czech). Czech Statistical Office.
  26. ^ FIELD LISTING :: IMPORTS - PARTNERS. CIA The World Factbook.
  27. ^ "Czechia". OEC. Retrieved 6 September 2021.
  28. ^ "In Eastern Europe, Pact With Russians Raises Old Specters". The New York Times. 7 April 2010.
  29. ^ Milan Tuček. Sympatie české veřejnosti k některým zemím – listopad 2016 (in Czech). CVVM. Published on 5 January 2017.
  30. ^ a b c CZECH INTELLIGENCE: HALF OF RUSSIA’S DIPLOMATS IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC ARE SPIES. Czech Radio.
  31. ^ "Russian Spy Tale Rattles Czechs". New York Times. 23 December 2010. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  32. ^ a b Russian Intelligence Waging Information War, Says Czech Security Service
  33. ^ Russia expels 2 Czech diplomats in spy row
  34. ^ a b John R. Schindler. Putin’s Central European Spy Base. New York Observer. 05/18/17.
  35. ^ "How Russians Pay to Play in Other Countries". New York Times. 30 December 2016. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  36. ^ [Rozbili jsme síť jedné z ruských zpravodajských služeb, reaguje ředitel BIS na Zemanovy „čučkaře“ https://ct24.ceskatelevize.cz/domaci/2673755-rozbili-jsme-sit-jedne-z-ruskych-zpravodajskych-sluzeb-reaguje-reditel-bis-na] (in Czech). ČT24. 8.12.2018.
  37. ^ Prohlášení ředitele BIS Michala Koudelky k činnosti služby (in Czech). bis.cz. 7.12.2018.
  38. ^ Analýza „prokremelských“ webů: šíří vlnu zloby a půl procenta soucitu (Czech). Mladá fronta DNES. June 13, 2016
  39. ^ a b c Robert Tait. Czech Republic to fight 'fake news' with specialist unit. 28 December 2016.
  40. ^ PROPAGANDA MASKOVANÁ BOJEM ZA SVOBODU A DEMOKRACII (in Czech). Neovlivní.cz. 7.11.2016.
  41. ^ R07 Cizinci s pobytem nad 12 měsíců podle státního občanství v letech 2008 - 2016 (k 31. 12.)
  42. ^ Cizinci v ČR: Vietnamci u nás zakořenili. Czech Statistical Office.
  43. ^ Jan Němec. Rusů v Česku stále přibývá. Jsou už třetí nejpočetnější skupinou imigrantů (in Czech). Hospodářské noviny. 2. 11. 2017
  44. ^ Rusové se vrací. Počet zahraničních turistů v Česku přesáhl rekordních deset milionů - E15.cz (in Czech). 2018-04-28. E15.cz.

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