The network of Russian intelligence agents operating under cover in the Czech republic included both Czech nationals and Russians who had obtained Czech citizenship, according to an investigation published by the Czech news magazine Respekt.
In December last year, Czech President Miloš Zeman criticized his country’s counterintelligence for claiming supposedly without proof that there is a large number of Russian and Chinese spies in the country. At the time, Zeman emphasized that there was no information about this in the intelligence agency’s classified reports. The following day, Michal Koudelka, director of the Czech Security Information Service, said that his department had uncovered a network of agents from one of Russia’s intelligence agencies, but did not clarify which one.
Respekt has now published information about this network based on an independent journalistic investigation in Russia and the Czech Republic that has been underway for several months.
According to the magazine, the Czech security forces carried out the mission in 2018. A group of Russian citizens and ethnic Russians with Czech citizenship was arrested at the same time. The group operated in Prague through two private front companies that sold computer equipment and software. The companies were also used as a base from which to prepare cyberattacks.
Citing its own sources, the news outlet claims that the equipment for preparing the cyberattacks was brought into the Czech Republic from Russia through third countries, using the Russian embassy’s vehicles with diplomatic license plates. The computer companies also reportedly obtained this equipment through the diplomatic mission. The investigating journalists also learned that the hacker group was supposed to collaborate with several similar cells operating in other countries.
Respekt writes that the goal of the Czech security forces operation was to disrupt the activity of the local portion of this organization. It is not known, however, exactly what the Russian intelligence network was doing or what the cyberattacks would have targeted.
In recent times, there have been reports of a growing number of Russians obtaining Czech citizenship under unclear circumstances. At the end of 2018, there were more than 38,000 Russians living in the Czech Republic, and 4,764 have acquired Czech citizenship since 1993.
Alexej Kelin, a member of the Czech government’s subcommittee for national minorities, has said that, at the next session, he intends to propose that the criteria for granting citizenship to foreigners be made stricter. “As we can see, it could constitute a threat to the country’s security,” Kelin told reporters.