Digital war and de-stabilisation of Europe


The first time that I recognised that digital war does exist was during the first direct presidential election 2013 in the Czech republic (before the president was indirectly elected by a joint session of the Chamber of deputies and the Senate). There were 9 candidates for the office but Milos Zeman and Karel Schwarzenberg qualified for the second round which was won by our former president Milos Zeman. Mr. Zeman was a prime minister from 1998 to 2002, he was the key official in negotiating the Czech Republic's entrance into the European Union, lauding it as his country's return to its Western roots. Then he lost a presidential bid in 2003 and withdrawn to a remote village in Bohemia.

During this time when Mr. Zeman was out of the public eye, He was invited to an annual forum used as a platform to attack Western institutions by Vladimir I. Yakunin, head of Russian Railways and a former Soviet intelligence officer at the United Nations. At least one Russian ambassador dropped in to visit as well, according to several Czech journalists.

Mr. Zeman made a comeback in 2013, winning the presidency in a victory partly engineered by Mr. Nejedly, the key financial official for the campaign.

Mr. Nejedly was a shadowy figure — serving the president as a private adviser, not on the government payroll.

He spent most of the 1990s working in Russia. He eventually returned to the Czech Republic and in 2007 founded Lukoil Aviation Czech, a Lukoil subsidiary, becoming its general manager. The company won no-bid contracts to supply aviation fuel at several Czech airports, including Prague airport. But the business failed, running up almost $7.5 million in debts, according to commercial records kept by the Prague Municipal Court, including a $1.4 million fine Mr. Nejedly owed to the Czech state over a fuel deal gone sour. The records were first unearthed by the MF DNES newspaper.

Lukoil liquidated its subsidiary. Court records indicate that Mr. Nejedly, who owned 40 percent of Lukoil Aviation Czech, paid nothing.

Mr. Nejedly displayed his Russian sympathies plainly enough — during 2016 Czech media published a picture showing him holding his cellphone with a picture of Mr. Putin on the back and he didn't deny doing that. Which in my opinion is completely ridiculous to have a photo of Putin on the back of your cell phone...

Mr. Zeman was among three European Union leaders who attended the May 2015 Victory Day parade in Moscow commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Mr. Zeman also endorsed the Russian intervention in Syria, called for a "Czechxit" referendum like the British vote to withdraw from the European Union.

Mr. Zeman repeatedly criticized Western economic sanctions imposed on Russia, and denied that the Kremlin had deployed troops in Ukraine. 2014, Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister at the time, said, "I don't know if the Czech Republic has an intelligence service. It does? Then he should ask them."

The 2015 annual report by the Czech intelligence service stated that the extraordinary number of Russian diplomats accredited to the embassy here meant many were working as intelligence officers. The number of Russian Embassy diplomats is generally pegged at 120 to 140, compared with about 40 Foreign Service officers for the United States.

For my Irish friends - don't forget about the recent scandal around the expansion of the Russian embassy in Dublin. The Irish Times reported that security experts are till this date aware that Russian intelligence services are still planning to significantly upgrade Russia's Irish embassy's espionage capabilities.

Czech media have also reported that arms and ammunition stored in one of the depot's warehouses was destined for a Bulgarian arms dealer, who would sell them on to Ukraine. The agents are suspected of planting explosive devices on the arms which were meant to kill the arms dealer, but they bungled the operation and the devices detonated prematurely, killing two security guards. One of the agents is also suspected of being involved in the 2015 attempted poisoning of the Bulgarian arms dealer with Novichok, also used in the Skripal case. Czech authorities then announced the expulsion of 18 alleged Russian agents from its huge (130-strong) embassy in Prague; Moscow responded by expelling 20 Czech diplomats in Moscow, "crippling" the embassy, , which now has just five diplomats left. Prague is now considering whether to retaliate to the retaliation with further expulsions from the Russian Embassy, long suspected of being a base for Russian spying throughout the region.

Rather belatedly, BIS, the Czech secret services, recognised that the aliases of two Russians who are thought to have entered the depot matched that of the two alleged Russian agents accused of attempting to assassinate Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in the UK in 2018.

Mr. Zeman has also pushed for the sacking of the head of the Czech secret services, Michal Koudelka, whom he accused of exaggerating the danger posed by Russian and Chinese espionage. "I hope I do not reveal any state secret other than the secret about the incompetence of BIS," Zeman said in 2018. "In the past six years, there has not been a single indication that even a single Russian or Chinese spy managed to be uncovered."

In 2020, Mr. Zeman even tasked BIS with providing him with a report on Russian intelligence officers working in the Czech Republic and Czechs working with Russian intelligence, including the content of information they pass on and what the cooperation looks like. The BIS refused and leaked the request, causing an outcry and leading opposition senators to call for Zeman's impeachment.

"The president is not a security risk, but a security threat," said Jan Lipold, chief commentator for online news server Seznam. "Instead of supporting its credibility or just saying nothing, Milos Zeman undermines the authority of Czech counter-intelligence. This is unique in Europe, and now we have it in black and white that it was in line with Russian interests."

But I have to be also fair to Mr. Zeman and it should not be forgotten that at the end of his presidency, after the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022, on the day of the invasion, he called for Russia to be banned from SWIFT, the international payments scheme, and dubbed the assault "a crime against peace". He's also described Putin as a "madman". As he put it: "Lunatics need to be isolated, and we must protect against them not only by words but by concrete measures." He also said: "A few days ago, I said that the Russians were not crazy and that they would not attack Ukraine. I admit I was wrong," he told local media. More recently he said he felt "co-responsibility" for his past misreading of Putin's intentions. "He feels he made a big mistake in supporting Putin in the past; his credibility has been shaken. So he has become one of the most fervent critics of Moscow," explains Jiří Pehe, director of New York University in Prague. He regained my respect.  People do mistakes. And people do get manipulated by "mad" and charming people and their fanatic crew. 

During the 2013 presidential election campaign, the atmosphere in Czech society was very polarised and awful. It was also the first time when I realised how google algorithms divide society. Even though originally it was meant just as a marketing tool to sell more to people, certain people also realised that it's a perfect tool to spread propaganda. When people see more and more of content similar to one that they clicked on previously and on the top they lack analytical thinking , lack of general knowledge and lack of internet literacy they are just being all the time reconfirmed with the same kind of information and it is then so easy to manipulate and convince people about whatever they want. Let's look how propaganda miraculously worked on the human psyche already during the II. World War and the internet did not exist yet. Now with the existence of the internet it's so easy to manipulate even people that live on the other side of our Planet. There was lots of manipulative fake news circulating around the internet, these pages were written with perfect czech, looking real, giving the impression of the underground medium that wants to present you the truth, fighting against the mainstream media that lies to you. Well, of course it is important to see the manipulation of mainstream media too, but this was mainly fake news, using photos of different events and presenting them as something else and using brilliant methods of manipulating the human mind to make them feel that they are there for them fighting against the system. Especially against the European Union, immigration and political correction. Only when you looked at the URL address then you could realise that it's either a weird URL address that is not Czech or it's Sputnik (Russian medium). Most people didn't check these things and they were blindly spreading it around the internet. Not only that this polarisation of society completely killed any healthy public discussion about problems and worries around immigration or political correction but it was de-stabilizing the whole society and creating lots of far right opinions among people. Today, because of banning lots of these sites and also efforts to educate people about the internet and fake news, what I see that they are doing now, they distribute manipulative pictures and memes with texts where it is not clear the source and it's being distributed via chats on Whatsapp, Messenger etc.

Fostering ties with energy middlemen who owe their fortunes to Russia and exert considerable political influence is a classic Russian method seen in Germany, Ukraine and other countries. Such links might not be forged by the Kremlin directly, but by individuals or companies seeking to please Mr. Putin. "A lot of this is not at the direct behest of Putin," said Alina Polyakova of the Atlantic Council, editor of a recent study on Russian influence in Europe. "There are individuals who try to seek favoritism, who want to bring something good to the czar." Which again  corresponds with my previous article where I mention the problem that Russians still didn't re-define themselves into modern democratic state, instead they still have an inclination towards totalitarian leaders. 

And Russia through these cyber attacks was also interfering with presidential elections in the US or Brexit referendum. And it' s not a coincidence that there have been proven financial channels to finance these political campaigns around Donald Trump or Boris Johnson. You can also see the parallels of the social topics that they choose to interfere with. It's always about racism, immigration and anti EU. To destabilise, spread fear and divide.

Robert Fico in Slovakia

Without a surprise, there are again certain similarities and parallels. Our former president Zeman was originally pro- EU and talking about western roots and that joining the EU is a success.  And then suddenly after having a break from politics and his political comeback, his rhetoric changed.  Mr. Fico in August 2017 said: "The fundamentals of my policy are being close to EU core, close to France, to Germany. I am very much interested in regional cooperation within the Visegrad Four but Slovakia's vital interest is the EU."  On 15 March 2018 Fico delivered his resignation after murders of investigative journalists Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova and narrowly staying out of the jail after corruption allegations. 2023 he is back and more pro-Russian than ever before. 

My teacher for history was always talking about the misfortune that people don't learn from their past and that they repeat their mistakes. As a teenager I saw that as some kind of cliche. Today, I think I'm even more frustrated than my history teacher. I don't want to be mean to Slovaks, because as I described earlier, In the Czech Republic we have also our problems going on.  But , please, don't forget about the First Slovak State (Slovenský štát) - the client state of Nazi Germany which existed between 14 March 1939 and 4 April 1945 after abandoning Czechoslovakia to be annexed by Germany. The Slovak part of Czechoslovakia declared independence with German support one day before the German occupation of Bohemia and Moravia. It was a one-party state governed by the far-right Hlinka's Slovak People's Party, the Slovak Republic is primarily known for its collaboration with Nazi Germany, which included sending troops to the invasion of Poland in September 1939 and the Soviet Union in 1941. In 1942, the country deported 58,000 Jews (two-thirds of the Slovak Jewish population) to German-occupied Poland, paying Germany 500 Reichsmarks each. Please, my dear Slovak friends, don't repeat the same mistakes just a century later to collaborate with another imperialistic totalitarian regime. 

And at the end I want to share with you a video made 1968 where is my beloved Jan Werich talking about Freedom. It has english subtitles, please , be patient to listen (read) it till the end.