By William Tucker
Columnist, In Homeland Security
In early April, a suspected Russian intelligence officer arrived in Prague with the mission of killing three Czech politicians, according to the Czech investigative weekly Respekt. Later, Ondrej Kolar, a district official in Prague, verified some of the report by stating that he was under police protection because the Russian agent had been sent to “liquidate” him.
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The Czech counterintelligence service, BIS, has warned for years that Russian intelligence services such as the SVR, GRU, and FSB have been operating in the Czech Republic. BIS is a skilled and professional organization with plenty of experience dealing with Russian encroachment, so its warnings were not hyperbole. This does appear to be a far-reaching operation as Russia allegedly planned to kill two other politicians as well.
Furthermore, Russia is also the main suspect in a recent string of cyberattacks against the Czech Republic. The alleged assassination plot coupled with the cyberattacks are nothing short of an intelligence offensive.
Targets Angered Moscow by Naming a Prague Square after a Slain Kremlin Critic
The other two politicians targeted by Russia include Prague mayor Zdenek Hrib, and Pavel Novotny, another Prague district official like Kolar. The three politicians angered Moscow for several perceived transgressions.
Their sins included renaming the square in front of the Russian Embassy in Prague after the slain Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov and removing the statue of a Soviet general. The account detailed in Respekt claims that sources in the Czech security services knew the Russian officer was coming to the Czech Republic and that his diplomatic pouch contained the very toxic poison ricin, a favorite killer that Russia has used in the past in assassination attempts against people who speak out against Moscow.
Also by William Tucker: Russia’s Assassination Campaign Continues Against Dissent
Once the Russian officer landed, he was promptly escorted to the Russian Embassy. Embassies are frequently used for intelligence operations, but the Russian Embassy in Prague is heavily staffed. In fact, Prague has taken issue with the excessive size of the Russian Embassy, which demonstrates just how concerned the Czech Republic is with Russian activities inside the country.
One disquieting aspect not discussed in the media is the level of detail presented by the unnamed sources. That Czech security services knew the man in question was a Russian intelligence asset is not surprising, but that the Czechs allegedly knew that he was carrying in the diplomatic pouch was problematic. Assassinating a foreign politician is not an endeavor trusted to an entire organization. Rather, plans to carry out the operation are typically held to just a few select people.
This suggests that the Czech security apparatus has a source in a trusted position somewhere in the Russian government or in the Russian Embassy in Prague — as well the Czechs should since that is simply good intelligence work.
Source that Leaked the Plot May Have Inadvertently Burned a Well-Placed Czech Asset
Unfortunately, the source that leaked the plot to the Czech press may have inadvertently burned a well-placed asset for Russian intelligence, dramatically shrinking the number of suspects who may have supplied the information to the Czech Republic. The Czech security services may have come about the alleged plot by some other method, but considering the historical animosity between the Czech people and Russia, my bet is on a human intelligence source.
Earlier this year, I wrote that “In spite of the operations Russia has run in Europe, much of the continent has been slow to head off these activities. That is an unfortunate fact that needs to change.”
As we’ve noted, the Czech Republic has a long history of dealing with Russian aggression, but this recent plot truly demonstrates just how far Russia will go to punish the slightest perceived transgression. Unlike many of its neighbors, the Czech Republic has a better understanding of the stakes of ignoring Russian plots. The rest of Europe must take heed.