Czechs bust Russian network paying off European politicians

Michal Koudelka and Petr Fiala

The Czech secret service has scored a major success, uncovering a Russian network attempting to influence elections in various European states. The Prague government followed this revelation with sanctions on two individuals, including a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician.

Illustrative photo: Chris Yang,  Unsplash,  CC0 1.0 DEED

Czechia’s counterintelligence service, known by the acronym BIS, has achieved a considerable success, breaking up a Russian network in the country that was seeking to exert influence on upcoming European elections and foment anti-Ukraine sentiment.

Speaking on Wednesday afternoon, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala revealed something of what BIS had discovered about the Moscow-financed suspects and detailed in a 300-page report.

He said the influence network could have had a major impact on Czechia’s security, but that some of the group’s targets were further afield.

“They are also focused on the European Parliament. The whole thing only points to long-term efforts on the part of the Russian Federation to interfere in, or influence, democratic processes in Europe.”

BIS said on social media that its operation, which reportedly began in spring last year, had unveiled how Moscow was wielding influence in EU states and how it was attempting to affect political processes “in our countries”.

Petr Fiala | Photo: Office of Czech Government

For his part, Mr. Fiala thanked the secret service for its work and told reporters that the Czech government had already taken action against the Moscow-financed suspects.

“We have decided to place three subjects on our internal sanctions list. This concerns two individuals and one company. The first individual sanctioned is Viktor Volodymyrovych Medvedchuk.”

The company in question was a Czech-registered website named Voice of Europe, which published materials attempting to discourage the EU from sending further aid to Ukraine and ran articles on far-right parties and politicians.

Viktor Medvedchuk is a pro-Russian Ukrainian one-time legislator. He was sent to exile in Russia in 2022 in exchange for Ukrainian prisoners of war and stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship. The other individual is Ukrainian and Israeli citizen Artem Marchevskyi.

Medvedchuk reportedly financed Voice of Europe and Marchevskyi operated it.

Photo: Jernej Furman,  Flickr,  CC BY 2.0

Being placed on Czechia’s sanctions list entails the freezing of the financial accounts of the relevant subjects. The website is evidently no longer operational.

Deník N cited BIS as saying some politicians in European states had received payment from Voice of Europe. They came from six EU states: Germany, France, Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Hungary.

Among those involved were the German far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD), BIS told the news site.

No Czech politicians were suspected of taking Russian cash in this case.