‘Active measures’ in CEE aim to split society, pollute political discourse



Russian hackers conducted “very active” cyber attacks against institutions in the Czech Republic last year, according to the European Union member’s counter-espionage agency, Bloomberg reports:

APT28 is a Russian hacking group, also known in the intelligence community as “Fancy Bear,” that’s been linked to attacks against the U.S. Democratic Party, the White House and NATO. It targeted Czech diplomatic, military and academic entities last year, the secret service, known as BIS, said in a report released on Tuesday. Using computers outside of the country, the group compromised several private email accounts of people linked to the Czech military, according to the report.

“It can be assumed that it will continue in the future,” said BIS. “The misappropriated data and information may be used for various purposes, including political or scientific-industrial ends, discrediting specific persons or countries, and disinformation and blackmail.”

Eight European Union member states have signed a letter asking High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini (right), to significantly expand activities for countering Russian propaganda, especially in the Western Balkans, according to reports:

The letter was sent ten days ago and signed by foreign ministries of Croatia, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. It is reported the letter stated that “in the face of unabated third party disinformation campaigns, we see an urgent need to further enhance the EU’s StratCom capabilities.”

“We should not abide ‘useful idiots’ who legitimize RT by appearing on its shows and newscasts”, Kremlin Watch analyst Monika Richter writes for The Atlantic Council. Often, well-known media and journalism personalities help RT blur and thereby inadvertently boost its credibility as a legitimate news source. For more details about RT’s editorial strategy and evidence of impact, she argues in “The Kremlin’s Platform for ‘Useful Idiots’ in the West.”

Polling conducted in 2016 by European Values, a think tank, found that a quarter of Czech voters read and believe alternative news sites. And a survey earlier this year by Ipsos Czech Republic found that 35 percent of those who regularly read alternative news sites only care that the sites “tell the truth,” not whether the pages are funded by or related to Russia, notes Emily Schultheis, a Berlin-based freelance journalist and Robert Bosch Foundation Fellow.

Politicians from the country’s non-populist parties, especially pro-EU ones, see these sites as damaging to the overall political discourse, she writes for The Atlantic. “Here in the Czech Republic it’s a big problem,” said Petr Kučera, campaign manager for the pro-EU TOP09 party in Prague and a candidate for parliament. Many of these sites, he added, “are completely trying to split the society.”

The main difference between the West and the East when it comes to election meddling is the regionally distinct modus operandi, according to a study of the Kremlin’s influence on elections in the Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary, published by the Political Capital Institute. The Kremlin has strategic goals in each country’s election, but the Czech Republic is expected to be the most intense battleground for Russian meddling efforts, the report adds.

The winner of the Czech parliamentary elections, Andrej Babiš, has no clear Russia policy and often changes his views, notes Jakub Janda, Head of the Kremlin Watch Program. If Milos Zeman were to win the presidential re-election in January 2018, Babiš could align with him, tolerating his pro-Putin narrative, he writes in New Eastern Europe:

Furthermore, Babiš’s approach (centralised leadership and business-oriented, pragmatic policies) could lead the Czech Republic to become a target of strong attempts by the Kremlin and the business interests around him to extend economic influence. Babiš has already called for lifting Western sanctions against Russia. However, it is also possible that Babiš could be swayed by the pro-Atlantic and anti-Kremlin stances of his own defence minister and leading foreign policy figure within his party, Martin Stropnický.

Milan Nič of the German Council on Foreign Relations highlighted the difference between Mr Babiš and more ideologically driven leaders such as Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Poland’s de facto leader, The FT adds.

“In the Polish case, Kaczynski’s campaign was based on ‘winning back’ the country from liberals,” says Mr Nic. “[Babiš] was saying, ‘I will clean things up, I am effective, I am different from the others’. He is not a political animal like Orban or Kaczynski. He’s a businessman.”


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