Saturday, 27 June 2020

LN: Expelling of Russian spies is hard for Czechs

6 September 2016

Prague, Sept 5 (CTK) - Many of the 137 employees of the Russian diplomatic mission in the Czech Republic are spies according to the Czech counter-intelligence BIS, but expelling such spies is a problem due to relatiatory measures concerning the smaller Czech mission in Moscow, daily Lidove noviny (LN) writes on Monday.

If Prague expels a Russian diplomat, Moscow is very likely to expel one of Czech diplomats working in Russia. As the Czech Foreign Ministry has only 65 employees in Russia, this would be a bigger problem for Czechs than Russians, the paper writes.

The BIS latest annual report said a great part of Russian intelligence officers operated under diplomatic cover of the Russian mission that remained very disproportionate in number compared with other embassies.

The Russian embassy has 43 diplomats and 76 administrative and technical workers, and two Russian general consulates have eight diplomats and ten other workers, LN writes, citing data of the Czech Foreign Ministry.

The Czech embassy in Moscow has 14 diplomats and 33 members of other staff, the general consulates in St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg have six diplomats and 12 other employees.

According to sources from the secret services, up to two thirds of Russian diplomats in the Czech Republic are spies, the paper writes.

"The asymmetry in the numbers of Russian diplomats in Prague and Czech diplomats in Moscow is related to the size of the diplomatic missions and we as an intelligence service are not in a position to comment on it. The issue falls within the scope of our foreign ministry," BIS spokesman Jan Subert said.

He said the BIS is first of all interested in the number of intelligence officers among Russian diplomats.

Referring to the public part of the BIS report on 2013, Subert said the number of the Russian intelligence officers in the country is extremely high and it also includes people who come to the Czech Republic individually as tourists, experts, academics or entrepreneurs.

"In this context, it is very unfortunate that the Russian side takes steps against Czech career diplomats in retaliation for not granting visas or accreditations for Russian citizens connected with Russian intelligence services," Subert told the paper.

In its 2011 report, BIS writes that Russia clearly abuses the disproportion between the size of the Czech diplomatic mission in Russia and the Russian diplomatic mission in the Czech Republic. Using various forms of political pressure and reciprocal measures, Russia forces the Czech Republic to accept Russian intelligence officers as diplomats, BIS wrote.

LN writes that Russian secret services are trying to more and more cooperate with the rather large Russian community in the Czech Republic, but a large part of the community rejects such cooperation. "These people often left Russia due to such practices and they do not want to be involved in them," a source from the intelligence said.

The press section of the Czech Foreign Ministry said the asymmetry in the numbers is usual in diplomacy and a disproportionately high number of Russian diplomats in Central and East European countries is common. As Russia is much bigger than the Czech Republic, the number of Russian diplomats is generally higher than the numbers of diplomats from smaller countries, the ministry said.

But the asymmetry is not as common as the ministry declares, the paper writes.

Czech diplomacy has 65 employees in the United States, while the U.S. diplomatic mission in the Czech Republic has 69 members. Fourteen Czech diplomats and 19 other staff operate in China, while 24 Chinese diplomats and four assistants are seated in Prague.

Former Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg considers the asymmetry a problem.

"Russia is a superpower, we are not. Russia used to have many people here in the past (communist) era and, unfortunately, it has not kept them here. A mere fraction of the staff would definitely manage to fulfil the tasks of the embassy. But the Russians consider us their own territory and they want to influence almost everything here," Schwarzenberg told the paper.

He said some Russian spies had to be expelled because they took actions that were strongly against the mission of a diplomat. However, as the Czech embassy in Moscow is small, no Czech diplomats would remain there if all Russian spies could be sent away, Schwarzenberg said.

Cyril Svoboda, who was Czech foreign minister in 2002-06, said the high number of diplomats showed that Russia considers its representation in the Czech Republic of big importance.

"The question of what the diplomats are focusing on and what role they are playing is more important than their number," Svoboda said.

The Czech Foreign Ministry said the asymmetry in the number of diplomats can hardly be changed. The lowering of the number of foreign diplomats is done only in extraordinary situations and reciprocal retaliatory measures always follow, the ministry said.

Svoboda said Prague makes the decision on how many Czech diplomats work in Moscow and Russia does not limit their number in any way.

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