Experts: Russia’s main tools of influence are diplomatic missions and capitalizing on internal problems of European countries

Experts: Russia’s main tools of influence are diplomatic missions and capitalizing on internal problems of European countries
December 16, 2015.

Kyiv, December 16, 2015. The emergence of “friends of the Kremlin” in many European countries is not accidental. It is the result of Russia’s purposeful and consistent policy aimed to shatter EuroAtlantic unity and prevent the EU from implementing consolidated policy. The main influence tools in this hidden game are propaganda , diplomatic missions and skillful use of the internal problems of European countries. This was stated by Czech and Ukrainian experts at Ukraine Crisis Media Center after showing the documentary “Czech friends of the Kremlin.” The film is an investigation of Olha Malchevska, a Ukrainian journalist. It demonstrates how the full range of the Kremlin’s tools of influence work in the Czech Republic. Starting work on the film, Ms. Malchevska intended to find out how Mr. Miloš Zeman, the current president of the Czech Republic, turned from an ardent critic of Soviet policy during the Velvet Revolution, into the most pro-Russian president of any EU member country.

Although the Czech government has also introduced sanctions against Russia, the country’s president, Miloš Zeman has repeatedly made scandalous statements on Ukraine, repeating Russian propaganda messages. He called the annexation of Crimea “restoration of historical justice.” This outraged the Czechs, who instantly drew a parallel between the current Kremlin policy and Adolf Hitler’s actions of 1938. The president’s position angered the majority of Czech society: up to 30 thousand Czechs protested with “red cards” for Zeman. However, the President was not deterred. According to Ondřej Soukup, reviewer of Czech business journal “Hospodářské noviny” and a former correspondent in Moscow, a reason for this position is that Mr. Zeman “loves to be the center of some controversy.” “This is a game; he likes to be in the spotlight. He likes to be in opposition to the mainstream. It’s his way to survive politically and mobilize supporters,” explains Mr. Soukup. He recalled that when the Crimean events only began, Zeman compared them with Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia and called on NATO to take decisive preventive measures. However, a few weeks later, he denounced sanctions against Russia and said that he believed Sergey Lavrov, head of the Russian Foreign Ministry, that there were no Russian military in eastern Ukraine. Soukup also noted that Zeman gained most votes in the province, especially in coal mining areas. “During the election campaign, he played on the contrast of “loafers- intellectuals” and workers who “really produce something,” explains Mr. Soukup. “ He does not listen to people. He manipulates them. This is his strategy to stay to the end of this term and run for a second. ”

Zeman has close links with influential Russian businessmen for over a decade. In the Czech Republic there are many Russian companies. Among the most influential are “Vemex s.r.o.”, Gazprom’s Czech “daughter” and Lukoil Aviation Czech, “daughter” of Russian Lukoil, which supplies fuel for the country’s key airports. The first is run by Vladimir Yermakov, a friend of Milos Zeman. This person also owns a company producing artificial diamonds in Luhansk, and the fact that “LPR” militants exported the facility to Russia did not stop business. Top managers of Lukoil Aviation Czech Martin Neyedly and Pavlo Halushka are Zeman’s advisers. Mr. Neyedly financed Zeman’s election campaign, and “Lukoil” financed his “Party of Civil Rights”, which, unlike Zeman himself, did not win many supporters among Czechs. An important fact is that before the presidential election that brought him to office, Milos Zeman had spent 10 years almost without leaving his country house, communicating with a limited number of people. The first of them was Zdenek Zbytek, a retired military. He was dismissed from the army in disgrace after the Velvet Revolution because of his willingness to use tanks against demonstrators, though he later denied it. Currently, Mr. Zbytek remains relatively pro-Russian and closely cooperates with Russian businessmen in the Czech Republic and Moldova (former Soviet colonels and generals). They jointly manage five firms.

Besides, Zdenek Zbytek has close relations with Volodymyr Yakunin, a Russian oligarch and former president of the Russian Railways. Most likely it was he who introduced Miloš Zeman to Yakunin. Zeman has visited the Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations” seven times.The Forum is organized by Russians. Yakunin also visits it. At least the last trip of Miloš Zeman and six people close to him was fully funded by the Forum organizers.

It should be pointed out that over the past four years, eleven Russian spies were expelled from the Czech Republic. According to Andor Shandor, former head of military intelligence of the Czech Republic, and one of the experts who commented on the film, they are not alone in acting for the benefit of the Russian Federation. More than half of employees of the Russian embassy may be connected with the intelligence service.

Czechs have gathered 10,000 signatures to impeach their president. Even if Miloš Zeman resigns his post, “Putin’s friends” can become more active in any other country. Most likely Marine Le Pen (People’s Front, France), Alexis Tsipras (Syriza, Greece), Silvio Berlusconi (Italy) and several other radical politicians who are influenced in a similar way. “We must abandon understatement of threat – the film deals with the new types of warfare. (…) The mechanisms and technologies used by Russians convert all known civilized mechanisms of work – the economic presence, trade, cultural and diplomatic presence – into the element of warware, said Bohdan Yaremenko, head of the “Maidan of Foreign Affairs” charitable foundation. The task is to annihilate the enemy, but it is a matter of breaking down their ability to lie rather than conquering territory.” According to him, the current policy of Russia is aimed at destroying Euro-Atlantic unity and at impeding any consolidated policy of the EU. According to Yevhen Fedchenko, co-founder of StopFake.org, Director of Mohyla School of Journalism of the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy National University, in all countries the most successful tactic is using internal problems for their own political purposes. This is the case when Russia tries to appear as a friend who “has a valuable experience” to solve them.” This is a proactive way of winning other countries over to its side, and it is very effective. They just need to identify these breaches, to make them larger and saturate each country with their tools of influence, – he explained. – It is important that governments define it as a problem, put it on the radar and work on it.” The greatest danger is that the world has not yet invented any counteraction means. Only now European governments begin to understand that this is real propaganda and real establishment of a network of agents.

“The greatest and very important mistake of Russia is that it does not know where it begins and where it ends,” Oksana Pelenska a reporter of the Ukrainian service of Radio Liberty (based in Prague), Slavicist, culture expert, author of the study “Ukrainian portrait on the background of Prague” and film consultant, quoted Vaclav Havel. According to her, it is important that Czechs began to clearly distinguish between Ukraine and Russia as individual nations, although this awareness “goes against the conviction of many years. In the future, said Ms. Pelenska, we should make the film “Czech friends of Ukraine” – “because there were many of them since Tomas Masaryk’s times.” Currently, she recalled, the Czech Republic – both through volunteer initiatives, and at the government level – has provided significant humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and has taken 39 Ukrainian military servicemen for medical treatment.

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