Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and Defence Ministry officials have moved to quell concerns over the security of Czech soldiers and police officers serving in Iraq. The general chief of staff said precautions had been taken to ensure the safety of the 40-member-strong Czech team and an emergency evacuation plan was in place should the need arise.
Prime Minister Andrej Babiš says the Czech Republic is not at present
considering withdrawing its troops from Iraq. Speaking on a visit to
Olomouc, Mr. Babiš confirmed an earlier statement from the General Staff
of the Czech Army that none of the country’s soldiers had been harmed
during overnight rocket attacks on two US bases in Iraq.
A Czech Ministry of Defence spokesman said no Czech soldiers had been stationed at the bases.
Iran said the strikes had been in retaliation for the killing last week of its military commander Qassem Suleimani.
A spokesperson for the Czech Army said its troops had halted exercises and were remaining at their bases, adding that it would await a decision on how to proceed from NATO command.
Almost 40 Czech soldiers are taking part in a NATO mission in Iraq and five Czech police officers are serving as instructors in Bagdad.
Amidst growing tension over the latest developments in the Middle East, following the killing of Iran’s military leader Qassem Soleimani in Iraq, the Czech foreign minister has joined calls for a level-headed approach to the crisis, warning that a further escalation of tension will not only destabilize the region, but put at risk the progress made in the war on terror.
With the arrival of the New Year, the Czech Army has deployed 1,000
soldiers to NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, the army said in
a statement on Thursday. The Czech soldiers will be on alert for the
entirety of 2020 and must be able to take action in a crisis situation
within five days.
Commander Petr Blecha said the Czechs had been preparing intensively to play a role in the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force since 2018. The task force was created following the Russian annexation of Crimea.
The Czech Republic will increase its contribution to the NATO budget by
about ten percent as of next year, the CTK news agency reported, citing
defence ministry sources.
The country is currently contributing 580 million crowns and should pay around 620 million as of 2020.
NATO member states agreed to increase their individual contributions after the US, which had been contributing the lion’s share for years, announced it would be lowering its input.
The funding of the alliance and defence spending will be the main focus of an upcoming NATO summit in London next week.
The Czech Republic will be represented by President Miloš Zeman, Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček, Defense Minister Lubomír Metnar and Czech Ambassador to NATO Jakub Landovský.
The spreading of disinformation by pro-Russian activists was the most
serious threat to the constitutionality of the Czech Republic last year,
the country’s BIS counterintelligence service says in an annual report
issued on Tuesday.
In recent years such players have been agitating in an increasingly intensive and systematic way against the political structure in the Czech Republic and the country’s membership of the EU and NATO, the report states.
The report says those circulating pro-Moscow disinformation tend to be from various nationalist and populist movements and include parties and individuals. Some of them were previously active in the domestic anti-immigrant movement.
BIS also said that China was intensifying its espionage activities in the Czech Republic, with all of it main intelligence services in operation here in 2018.
China has targeted its activities at the academic community, the security forces and the state administration and has sought to recruit Czechs as agents, the report says.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation should focus on fighting
international terrorism, the main, if not only, enemy of civilised states,
Czech President Miloš Zeman said at a meeting of Czech heads of military
command on Wednesday. He and Defence Minister Lubomír Metnar also said
they were against a withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The Czech president also mentioned the recent remark by his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, who said in a recent interview with the Economist magazine that NATO was in a state of "brain death". Mr. Zeman said that “if NATO is not to be in a state of brain death, it should become more offensive and realise what its real role in the current world is.”
The Czech Republic’s European Commissioner, Věra Jourová, has come out
against a statement by French President Emanuel Macron that NATO is
“brain dead”. Speaking on Czech Television on Sunday, Ms. Jourová said
everything that caused the Kremlin to celebrate should be eschewed, adding
that she the European Union must make itself heard more within NATO.
Speaking on the same programme, the Czech former chairman of the NATO Military Committee, Petr Pavel, said Mr. Macron’s words had disrupted unity within the alliance.
Last year the Czech authorities broke up a Russian spy network operating in the country, the head of the BIS counter-intelligence service, Michal Koudelka, told MPs on Monday. The FSB spy ring – financed directly by Moscow and the Russian Embassy – was uncovered by BIS and the Czech Republic’s national organised crime unit. I discussed the revelation with former Czech Military Intelligence chief Andor Šándor.
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