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Respekt: BIS chief critical of Russia, Zeman does not promote him

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Prague, May 14 (CTK) – The dispute over the promotion of BIS counter-intelligence chief Michal Koudelka to general is part of the fight for the long-term focus of the Czech foreign policy, Ondrej Kundra writes in the weekly Respekt out on Monday, referring to President Milos Zeman’s refusal to promote Koudelka.

The Czech government approved Koudelka’s promotion, but Zeman who has the final say on the promotion of generals refused to raise him in rank on Victory Day last week.

When the government decided to appoint Koudelka the BIS chief two years ago, the Presidential Office opposed his nomination. This was not only because Zeman disliked prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka (Social Democrats, CSSD) very much, Kundra writes.

He says long-standing BIS chief Jiri Lang recommended Koudelka as his successor to Sobotka because Koudelka was an expert on Russia and Lang expected Russia to become an increasing threat to the Czech Republic.

Koudelka was an intelligence officer who focused on the influence of the Kremlin on Czech politics and some of Zeman’s closest assistants have been among those whom Moscow influenced, Kundra writes.

Zeman’s office apparently perceived Koudelka’s nomination for BIS chief as a threat and tried to prevent it, but failed in its effort. The tension between the Presidential Office and the BIS has been growing for some time, although it was not publicly mentioned.

The latent hostility has recently become open after the BIS took part in the expelling of three Russian spies from the country following the Novichok poisoning attack on former Russian agent Sergei Skripal in Britain, for which the British government makes Moscow responsible, Kundra writes.

The BIS selected ten Russian spies who were the most active and three of them were expelled within the coordinated retaliatory action against Russia by Britain and its allies.

The BIS also wanted Russian hacker Yevgeniy Nikulin to be extradited to the United States, which finally occurred and which Zeman and his office actively opposed – they lobbied for Nikulin’s extradition to Russia.

The last evidence that the BIS does not meet Zeman’s wishes was its report saying no Novichok has been produced in the Czech Republic. Zeman wanted to help Russia confirm its allegation that Novichok was made in the Czech Republic: he had to use a different source in order to falsely declare that Novichok was produced in the country, Kundra writes.

He says Zeman’s rejection to promote Koudelka was a punishment for all this.

Koudelka has developed a reputation of an officer who wants the rules to be strictly obeyed. His critics considered him inflexible, while his supporters perceived him as a guarantee that laws would not be circumvented even if the government or president wished this, Kundra writes.

Koudelka’s position seems strong at the moment, but some people from the Presidential Office will certainly try hard to get rid of him.

If the ANO movement and the CSSD fail to form a coalition government, Zeman may choose a person loyal to him and the new cabinet may easily replace Koudelka with a new person.

Koudelka might of course keep his post if he stopped siding with the allies from NATO and stopped making life difficult for Russia that wants to influence the developments in the Czech Republic, but he would hopefully not be willing to do so, Kundra writes in conclusion.

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