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Thursday, May 20, 2021

May 20, 2021

Ever since Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš blamed Russian intelligence on April 17 for a 2014 ammunition dump explosion that killed two people, relations between Moscow and Prague have deteriorated to historical lows. Although the Czech parliament described the 2014 army warehouse explosion as “the biggest attack on our territory since 1968” and called on the EU to condemn “Russia’s sabotage” and impose new sanctions, Prague has failed to maintain a consistent story about their allegation.

Czechia’s leadership claimed in late April that Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, the Russian suspects blamed by London for the 2018 Skripal poisoning in Salisbury, destroyed an army warehouse in Vrbětice. Then, only days later, Czech President Miloš Zeman said that the explosion was the result of a foreign intelligence service or “inexpert handling of explosions,” stressing that he takes “both of these theories seriously and I wish for them to be thoroughly investigated.”

Zeman was then accused of siding with Russia and becoming “its advocate.”

However, a month after the allegations began, a third theory has emanated regarding the 2014 Vrbětice explosion. Some believe that the explosion was a disguised attempt to hide the theft of ammunition and weapons that were said to be sold to Ukraine, Syria and other countries, bypassing Czech legislation.

Without a clear and consistent story, Prague managed to deteriorate its relations with Moscow by expelling 18 Russian diplomats, which was then followed by the expulsion of 20 Czech diplomats from Russia. This tit-for-tat expulsion of diplomats was also accompanied by discussions of new sanctions against Russia, with Acting Foreign Minister Jan Hamáček calling for “collective action by European Union and NATO countries that will be aimed at a solidarity expulsion of identified members of Russian intelligence services from EU and NATO member states.”

It cannot be overlooked that the Czech-Russian spat coincided with Babiš being found to have breached interest rules over his control of trust funds linked to his Agrofert business empire, according to a European Commission audit cited by Reuters. Babiš is simultaneously Prime Minister of Czechia and the head of a large company that receives subsidies from EU authorities – and it is likely that he manufactured this crisis with Moscow to distract his local constituents from this clear breach of interest. With this in mind, the fact that the Czech Prime Minister has not had any charges laid against him suggests that his attempts of distraction were successful.

Babiš became Prime Minister after previously being the head of the Ministry of Finance. He became the Minister of Finance when he was already one of the richest people in the country. The business mogul earned his fortune through state subsidies for his own business, and not exactly through his own entrepreneurship. He ranked fifth in a list compiled by Brookings Institution expert Darrell West in 2014 about the most politically influential billionaires. In fact, Babiš was even ranked ahead of media kingpin Rupert Murdoch and ranked behind only Bill and Melinda Gates, George Soros, Jack Ma and interestingly enough, former Ukrainian Petro Poroshenko - another post-Soviet oligarch whose monetary and political capital was dependent on the U.S. and Western Europe.

The Czech Prime Minister owns MAFRA publishing house, which publishes the Czech version of the Metro newspaper, leading tabloid Mladá fronta Dnes, and one of the oldest newspapers in the country, Lidové noviny. It is through these publications that he disseminates the theory that Russia is responsible for the 2014 Vrbětice explosion. Seeing as Babiš was revealed in 2013 by the National Memorial Institute of Slovakia of having been an intelligence agent under the operational pseudonym of “Bureš,” he understands that once the media have portrayed a narrative, it is difficult to break it even when it has been debunked. It is for this reason that Czech media unrelentingly reports about Russia’s supposed responsibility for the Vrbětice explosion, without providing sufficient evidence, knowing well that if it is debunked it can be underreported in the media, thus giving Czech’s the permanent impression that Russia was responsible.

With many theories circulating, all of them lacking public evidence, Czechia maintains that Russia was responsible for the explosion. However, it does appear as a minimum that Babiš took advantage, if not manufactured, the crisis to distract Czechs from the European Commission’s audit against him.

By Paul Antonopoulos, independent geopolitical analyst


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