The following opinion article was originally published on Aktuálně.cz by Martin Fendrych.
We like to think we’re a “sovereign country”. But is it true? Sovereign countries can defend themselves against attacks, hybrid war, but we can’t. Take the pre-election lithium mining deal for example. It’s development is being followed by the Prague Security Studies Institute (PSSI). The case was covered by Hospodářské noviny (Economic News daily).
Right before the elections, the minister of industry Jiří Havlíček (ČSSD) signed a lithium mining deal with Australian company EMH. Two days later, server Aeronet accused the political party ČSSD of wanting to siphen off funds this way, and encouraged the public to vote for Tomio Okamura’s political party SPD. Within 24 hours, over a hundred facebook profiles shared the news. SPD, KSČM, Miloš Zeman, and Adnrej Babiš spoke on the topic. Lithium became the pre-election hit and harmed ČSSD.
At the beginning of Novemeber, social democrats received an analysis describing the reasons behind their ultimate defeat, three of which were key: the servile statements of four of their top government officials on China, the inability to explain the exlusion of Babiš from the government, and the lithium mining deal.
The original source of the lithium scandal was the disinformation website Aeronet, which is known for example for claiming that the protests of 17 November 2014 against President Zeman (red cards) were organized and financed by the American embassy. Aeronet is hosted on an anonymous server – the Czech secret service allegedly doesn’t know who owns it. The tracks lead to Virginia, Amsterdam, and Luxembourg, but the website uses methods similar to the Russian secret service.
It all began when minister Havlíček made the mistake of signing the lithium deal — he shouldn’t have signed such document right before the elections. But that doesn’t change anything about the fact that Aeronet’s speculations weren’t based on a real premise. Following social media, other types of media and politics spread the disinformation; the chamber of deputies held a session to address the issue.
The method is well known: a fact (the signing of the deal) is seen as the ideal event to trigger fake news, fabricated nonsense, which aims to plant doubt in the minds of the public, and to contribute to the disintegration of a country in the European Union. Thanks to the Lithium deal, ANO and SPD gained more voters, whereas ČSSD lost votes.
Kremlin Influence Is Growing
The United States are familiar with such strategies (the Presidential election, supporting the pro-Russian Trump). So it the Great Britain (brexit) and Lithuania, Litva, Estonia, Finland, and many other countries. The Russian hybrid war.
The Czech Republic is building its government and the Presidential election is around the corner. Both plays into the cards of the hybrid warriors. It’s striking that Mirek Topolánek suddenly joined the presidential race, having personal ties to Miloš Zeman’s advisor Martin Nejedlý, who has connections with the Russians. Topolánek claims that he wants to break the bond between Babiš and Zeman, but everybody knows that he’ll take away votes from Jiří Drahoš, who doesn’t have ties to Nejedlý.
Are the Russians meddling? We don’t know. These things usually come out post factum (like in the USA), or not at all. Babiš will become the Prime Minister. How will he address the claim that his party won, among else, thanks to the Lithium story that was started by a pro-Russian disinformation website? It’s no joke, even though we can’t say that the leader of the party had a deal with the Russians or Aeronet (the server promoted Okamura’s SPD, not ANO)
Since the elections, Babiš has been taking a pro-European and pro-NATO stance, while Aeronet works against the EU and NATO. The future PM should publicly distance himself from any suspicions about his connection to the pro-Russian website as soon as possible.
Many pro-Putin party members were voted into the Chamber of Deputies. They are spread across many parties like Okamura’s people, Putin’s fans, and extremist groups like Českoslovenští vojáci v záloze (Czechoslovakian Soldiers in Reserve). The situation is similar when it comes to KSČM’s deputees. Babiš has received long-term support from Putin’s Czech admirer and supporter Zeman.
If Babiš and ANO want to convince us that they are pro-European, and not a pro-Putin party, they can’t make a coalition with SPD and KSČM and they can’t even accept their silent support in the Chamber of Deputees.
The question is: how will Babiš, as a PM, protect the Czech Republic from the hybrid attacks of Russian spies? They helped him in the elections, but they are harmful to the country – they are pushing us out of the EU, attacking NATO, and they are successfully making the world question our western orientation. Babiš has a recipe for everything, so what will he do with this eminent threat?
If he doesn’t trust the civil counterintelligence BIS (he has no reason to trust it), he can ask his Minister of Defence Martin Stropnický, whose competence includes military spies — they know well what the Russian secret service and its people are doing here.
We have to start defending ourselves against them. We as a country have not yet done anything, and if we don’t change that, they’re going to take us apart and ruin our inner balance, which is already disturbed. Babiš is personally responsible for that now.