Visegrad Insight: No Disruption of Czech-Russian Business after Verbětice Affair

Source: Izvor: REUTERS/David W Cerny/File Photo

The Poland-based Visegrad Insight website said on Wednesday that the Czech public has been told for years the cooperation with authoritarian regimes was just business which had nothing to do with politics but wondered whether “the news about Russia’s intelligence service involvement in the Vrbětice Affair change a cosy relationship between Czech business elites and Putin’s inner circles?”

“Recent news that the GRU’s special unit is behind the 2014 explosions in the ammunition depot in Vrbětice seems to be the greatest direct revelation of the Kremlin’s covert operations inside Czechia to date. Moreover, this one involves the death of two Czechs and material losses to hundreds of other citizens,” the website said.

It added that “recent years have seen Russia retain extraordinarily favourable conditions in the highest echelons of Czech politics, with many openly pro-Kremlin politicians (and President Miloš Zeman on top) stressing the importance of the Czech-Russian business relationship, despite the rising negative coverage of Russia concerning energy and cybersecurity.”

Regarding the claim that business is just business without a political spice, the website recalls what it says is “PPF’s involvement in China. One of PPF’s minority shareholders Jean-Pascal Duviersart explained to the Czech readers that ‘business in China is simply business’.”

It add that “PPF has an extensive history in the Russian business environment, beginning already in the 1990s. These include an ownership share in Nomos/Otrkitie bank before it was bailed out with the help of the Russian state-owned VTB and PPF Real Estate Russia signing a deal with VTB in 2020.”

The website recalled PPF involvement in business in Serbia as well.

“For instance, consider the recently green-lighted deal between PPF’s Telenor and Telekom Serbia. Serbian journalists and opposition politicians criticise the deal as dangerous to the country’s shrinking media freedom. PPF and Telenor’s statement following the deal fends off criticism and argues its activities are strictly business-driven. The statement is frequently cited in anticipation of PPF’s infamous aptitude for threatening journalists or scholars with legal action. Serbian journalists or scholars researching Serbia and its politics only sporadically appeared in the Czech media to comment on the PPF’s deal with Telekom Serbia.

“In the past decade, business and politics in Czechia have been increasingly intermingled, and their overlap impossible to ignore. At best, this situation can be viewed as a temporal anomaly primarily caused by the involvement of (Czech Prime Minister) Andrej Babiš in politics,” the website recalled.
It added that “yet, the political influence of PPF, EPH and other behemoths of Czech business is thus conveniently shielded by the attention media paid to a more obvious target – Andrej Babiš’ ties to his chemical, agricultural and food conglomerate.”