Prague pushing to restrict movement of Russian diplomats within Schengen

After freezing Russian state-owned property on Czech territory, Czechia is now pushing for restrictions on movement for Russian diplomats within the Schengen space. Prague argues that Russian agents working undercover as diplomats greatly benefit from the EU’s borderless zone.

The government’s new security strategy clearly points to Russia and its imperialist ambitions as the biggest security threat for Czechia in the present day. And the country’s diplomacy has consistently moved to curb Russian influence on Czech territory in cutting Czechia’s dependence on Russian crude oil and gas, enforcing EU and national sanctions against individuals and companies linked to the Putin regime and defending itself against the hybrid war that Russia is waging against Western democracies.

Last week the government announced its decision to place another legal entity on the country’s national sanctions list - a Russian company, which is in charge of managing Russian assets abroad. The move is to guarantee that income generated by the company in this country will not be used to finance the war in Ukraine, and Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský says he would like to see such a move implemented across the EU.

“We must do everything in our power to make sure Ukraine defends its sovereignty and territorial integrity and defends the principle that Europe’s borders cannot be changed by force. Every small step in this direction helps. Every crown, every euro that does not end up in Putin’s coffers will help. We know there are similar Russian state owned properties around Europe and I believe a principled stand in this respect would go far.”

In Czechia the freeze concerns some 70 properties in Prague and Karlovy Vary. The income from these properties is now deposited in bank accounts that are under the control of the Czech Financial Authority and are no longer at Putin’s disposal.

Jan Lipavský | Photo: René Volfík,  iROZHLAS.cz

The most difficult part, Minister Lipavský said, was finding the right legal steps to prevent the sanctions from being overturned by the courts, since there are no precedents in this respect.

In the negotiations on the EU's 12th sanctions package, Czech diplomacy is also pushing for restrictions on the movement of Russian diplomats across Europe, arguing that many Russian agents operate undercover as diplomats. Minister Lipavský says the 2014 explosions at an ammunitions depot in Vrbětice are a case in point. The government expelled 18 Russian diplomats over the incident.

"The Czech Republic has experienced first-hand the dire consequences of Russian agents operating in our country. The Vrbětice explosions cost the lives of two Czech citizens and devastated nature in the vicinity of the depot. I think my EU colleagues are aware of the risks and it is public knowledge that many espionage activities are carried out under diplomatic cover."

Photo: BilliTheCat,  Pixabay,  Pixabay License

The Czech Republic has proposed that Russian diplomats be issued visas and residence permits that only allow travel within their host country and not the rest of the Schengen area. Prague also proposed only accepting biometric passports, which are more difficult to forge.

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