Czech intelligence chief says Russian agent bribed journalists and public figures to spread propaganda

Michal Koudelka

The head of the Czech Counterintelligence Service (BIS) Michal Koudelka on Monday highlighted the activities of Russian agents in the country in connection with the war in Ukraine. He said efforts to disseminate Kremlin propaganda in Czechia were now so blatant that anyone who does not see them must be “blind and deaf”.  

The public rarely hears about the work of intelligence services in uncovering foreign agents active in the country, but at a conference on disinformation in the Czech lower house of Parliament, the Czech counterintelligence chief reported on a relatively recent case of a Russian agent at work.

Photo: Sputnik

"The counterintelligence service ascertained that a Russian agent operating in Czechia paid selected journalists several thousand euros to secure the spread of Russian propaganda in this country. The agent paid for selected articles and financed several foreign trips that resulted in narratives supporting the foreign policy interests of the Russian Federation in relation to the war in Ukraine. These were disseminated in the public space, and well-known personalities were abused for this purpose.”

Mr. Koudelka refused to say who the well-known personalities involved were, but he said the facts were clear and convincing.

Among the fake news disseminated by Russian agents in this country was a report that emerged during the Czech presidential campaign in January of 2023, when the Russian state media channel Sputnik released a fake video of the hot candidate Petr Pavel, in which he allegedly claimed that Czechia should get involved in the war in Ukraine.

Reports of the alleged recruitment of hundreds of people for the Wagner mercenary group last autumn also came directly from Russia, Koudelka said. Its aim was to serve internal Russian propaganda, undermine trust in public support for Ukraine in Czechia and overwhelm state institutions and security forces.

Kremlin | Photo: Tatjana Kazakowa,  Pixabay,  CC0 1.0 DEED

The intelligence chief said that the rise in Kremlin propaganda is apparent.

“Anyone who now claims that they do not know what Russian propaganda is, what Russian disinformation is, in the face of such brutal interference in the essence of democracy in the Czech Republic, must be blind and deaf."

According to the BIS, another actor behind the dissemination of disinformation is the Russian Centre for Science and Culture in Prague 6, founded by the Russian federal agency Rosstrudnichestvo, which is on the European sanctions list. The centre is officially closed to the public, but it remains active on the internet, where it posts Kremlin war propaganda and Putin’s speeches. The BIS has been closely monitoring its activities.

Koudelka also mentioned the looming threat of artificial intelligence being abused for the spread of fake news by Russian and Chinese agents, which he said was something the democratic world must prepare for.

The speech was a nudge for the Czech government. Although the cabinet is considering a law to combat disinformation, it has so far failed to present a draft proposal.

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