Russia’s deputy Prime Minister arrived in Prague for talks on Monday amid frosty Czech-Russian relations following a tit-for-tat spy row. Speculation has been high in the Czech capital about what concrete steps Alexander Zhukov might take to ease the current strains. But is the anticipation about a possible diplomatic thaw is well founded?
The Czech lower house approved on Thursday two agreements, with the United States and Australia, which bind air carriers to pass passenger data on to each country’s authorities. Czech lawmakers approved the agreements that Washington and Canberra had drafted as part of the two countries’ fight against terrorism. The agreements were originally brought before the lower house in March 2008, but a vote on the matter has repeatedly been postponed. Speaking after Thursday’s vote, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout said the agreement with the US provided guarantees for passengers’ personal data to be handled appropriately. American authorities are now entitled to hold on to passenger data provided by this country’s airlines for up to eight years. Five EU states are still to approve such an agreement with the United States on grounds of civil liberties issues.
The Czech Republic and the Principality of Liechtenstein established diplomatic relations on Tuesday, marking an important step forward in a decades-old property dispute. The two countries have had no official ties since World War II, when Czechoslovakia seized land and castles belonging to the aristocratic House of Liechtenstein.
The Czech prime minister, Jan Fischer, visited Hong Kong on Saturday to promote mutual trade relations. Mr Fischer signed two memorandums on trade cooperation with Hong Kong officials during his visit to the city, the New China news agency reported. Mr Fischer also met with the head of the Hong Kong special administrative region, Donald Tsang. The Czech prime minister said that economic diplomacy was the priority of the Czech foreign policy and that Hong Kong was one of Asia’s biggest export markets for Czech companies. The director of Hong Kong’s Trade Development Council, Fred Lam, said that mutual trade between the Czech Republic and Hong Kong rose last year by 23 percent to more than 17 billion crowns, or 960 million US dollars.
The Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary, who are all members of the Visegrad Group, are considering setting up joint embassies in one building in a number of foreign countries, the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza wrote on Friday. The plan is said to have emerged as a result of cost-cutting measures during the economic crisis which have forced all four states to reduce the number of embassies and consulates around the world. The Czech Foreign Ministry said recently ten Czech embassies and consulates would have to be closed down in the near future.
Russian spies in the Czech Republic use methods that were employed by the
Soviet intelligence in Western Europe in the 1980s, according to the annual
report of the Czech Intelligence Service BIS released on Monday. The report
said that last year Russian espionage activities in the country were on the
rise, and specifically focused on US plans to build part of an American
anti-missile defence shield in the Czech Republic. The Czech secret service
said that Russian exponents contacted Czech politicians, particularly MPs,
their assistants and the staff of Czech political parties. The report also
notes that Russian spies, who are covered as diplomatic staff at Russian
embassy and consulates, employ methods used by Soviet espionage in Western
Europe in the last decade of the Cold War to influence the peace movement
of the time.
Earlier this month the Czech Republic expelled two Russian diplomats for alleged spying. Russia then retaliated by expelling two Czech diplomats from the Czech mission in Moscow.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be closing between five and ten Czech embassies and consulates as a cost cutting measure. Speaking to Czech Television on Sunday, Foreign Affairs Minister Jan Kohout said the embassies in question had not yet been chosen, however they would be places where the Czech diplomats “do not see a great deal of added value”. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs closed six consulates and embassies in recent years, reportedly saving 120 million crowns. Mr Kohout said the choice of which diplomatic centres to close would depend on the final version of the 2010 budget, which is currently being discussed by the government.
The weekly Respekt claims that the recent expulsion of two Russian diplomats from Prague was allegedly the culmination of a several months’ long effort to break up Russia’s highly-organized network of agents operating in NATO member states. According to Respekt, which has not revealed its sources, NATO’s “defense operation” was launched last September following the arrest of Estonian officer Herman Simm on suspicion of espionage for Russia. During questioning Simm allegedly provided information about an extensive network of Russian spies operating in various NATO member states. A number of Russian agents were expelled from Britain and Poland in 2008.
The German Foreign Ministry wants to acquire Prague’s Lobkowicz Palace, the seat of the German embassy. For thousands of East Germans, the compound was the last stop on their way to freedom in August 1989, two months before the fall of the Berlin Wall. In exchange for the historic building, German authorities are offering the Czech Foreign Ministry a palace in Berlin.
Moscow is reported to have expelled two Czech diplomats in retaliation for
the expulsion of two officials at the Russian embassy in Prague on
suspicion of spying. The decision to expel them was based on information
received from the Czech intelligence services, the news website novinky.cz
reported. TV Nova said the two Russian diplomats had been expelled on
Monday after attempting to establish contact with staff at the Czech
defence ministry; it reported that they were particularly interested in the
Czech army and US plans to build a radar base in central Bohemia.
On Tuesday Interfax reported that Russia had retaliated in kind and ordered two diplomats from the Czech embassy in Moscow to leave. The news agency quoted a Russian official as saying Prague’s unfriendly step had not gone unanswered.
Relations between the Czech Republic and Russia cooled over the former’s plans to host a US radar base that would be part of a global anti-missile defence system and Prague’s support for Georgia during last August’s war.