As if US-Russian relations were not strained enough over NATO’s incipient anti-missile system in Europe, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks concerning Russia’s “flawed” parliamentary election this past Sunday have only added fuel to the fire.
Today, following talks in Brussels between NATO foreign ministers and Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, the alliance’s secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, reported “no progress” toward a deal on the rancorous issue. “We listen, and we have listened today,” Fogh Rasmussen told journalists after meeting Lavrov at NATO headquarters. Lavrov, who speaks perfect English, resorted to clipped Russian immediately after Rasmussen’s comments. “Unfortunately our partners are not yet ready for cooperation on missile defense,” Lavrov huffed, but he left the door open for more talks, “provided that legitimate concerns of all parties are taken into consideration.”
“No ally within NATO is going to give any other country outside the alliance a veto over whether NATO protects itself by building a missile defense system against threats we perceive are the most salient,” Clinton said tersely at the time. “It’s not directed at Russia, it’s not about Russia, it’s frankly about Iran,” she said, adding it was “certainly not a cause for military countermeasures” by Russia.
The talks in Brussels came as Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin accused Clinton on Thursday of encouraging and supporting the election protesters and warned of a wider Russian crackdown on unrest. By describing Russia’s parliamentary election as rigged in favour of Putin’s potemkin party, United Russia, the KGB-communist dictator alleged Clinton “gave a signal” to his opponents. “They heard this signal and with the support of the U.S. State Department began their active work,” Putin said in televised remarks.
“I looked at the first reaction of our U.S. colleagues,” Putin said during a meeting with representatives of his All-Russia People’s Front movement in Moscow. “The [U.S.] secretary of state was quick to evaluate the elections, saying that they are unfair and unjust, even before she received materials from the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) observers.”
“What is there to say? We are a big nuclear power and remain so,” Putin growled. “This raises certain concerns with our partners. They try to shake us up so that we don’t forget who is boss on our planet [meaning the USA].”
Russian protesters have taken to the streets in Moscow and St. Petersburg for three straight nights despite heavy presence of city police and Interior Ministry Troops, outraged over observers’ reports of widespread ballot box stuffing and manipulations of the vote count.
Police have detained more than 1,000 people in both cities, many of them briefly, in a crackdown since Sunday, but opposition groups are planning new protests on Saturday, including one close to the Kremlin in the capital.
When asked about Putin’s comments, Clinton said Washington valued amicable relations with Moscow, which currently facilitates NATO’s military supply route across Russia to Afghanistan. “At same time the U.S. and many others around the world have strong commitments to democracy and human rights,” she said. “We expressed concerns we thought were well founded about the conduct of the elections.”
Last month, President Dmitry Medvedev, threatened to deploy missiles to Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave and Krasnodar region, to be aimed at US and NATO missile defense sites, unless a deal is reached assuaging Russian concerns.
Tainted Past: Czech President Vaclav Klaus Accused of Being a Communist-Era Secret Police Informer, Current Russian SVR Asset
Meanwhile, on December 7, as Russians brave bans to protest in the streets, Soviet Komsomol graduate Medvedev arrived in Prague to hold talks with Czech President Vaclav Klaus (pictured above) and Prime Minister Petr Necas. Over his two-day working trip in the “ex”-Soviet Bloc state, Medvedev will back a bid from Russia’s Atomstroyexport company for a US$28 billion contract to build two reactors at the Czech Republic’s Temelin nuclear power plant.
Russian officials have said Medvedev also wants to discuss NATO’s missile defense plan, which under the George W. Bush administration entailed the placement of anti-missile batteries and a radar installation in the Czech Republic. Modified by President Barack Hussein Obama, the missile defense system now includes batteries in Poland and Romania.
Medvedev’s Czech hosts have questionable links to the old communist regime in Prague. Although Necas, like Medvedev, was in his mid-20s when the Soviet Bloc unravelled, the Czech Republic’s Civic Democratic PM served in the Czechoslovak People’s Army in 1988 and 1989, the last two years before the so-called Velvet Revolution “ended” communism in that country. Klaus’ alleged role as an informant for Communist Czechoslovakia’s secret police places him in a comprised political and legal situation, similar to that faced by Poland’s Lech Walesa, who apparently spied for that country’s communist security service.
According to a fascinating 2008 article by Robert Eringer, which we cite here at length, Klaus, “while a 21-year-old student at the University of Economics, Prague, in 1962, was recruited by Czech counterintelligence [StB] officers and put to work as a spy against democratic reformers with whom he studied and later worked.” Incidentally, Eringer is a former FBI counterintelligence agent who later worked for Prince Albert II of Monaco.
Codenamed “Vodichka,” Klaus is said to have been “an avid and willing informant” who reported on the political reliability of his classmates. For his cooperation, he was awarded the rare privilege of travelling abroad on research projects, first to Italy in 1966 and, three years later, to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. While studying at Cornell, Klaus reported to Czech intelligence officers on the activities of Czech exiles in the USA.
In 1970, Mr. Klaus participated in Operation Rattrap, staged by the StB with the assistance of Soviet KGB advisers. In this ruse, Klaus was publicly named as an “anti-socialist malcontent” and “purged” from the University of Economics, enabling him to pose as a “victim” of the regime so he could continue to penetrate dissident circles. With this new cover, he established a personal relationship with Charter ’77 leader Vaclav Havel, who would become the Czech Republic’s first democratically elected president in 1993.
In 1987, Klaus was officially “rehabilitated” by the Communist Party, allowing him to join the Economic Forecasting Institute of the Academy of Sciences. Successfully planted within its ranks, he informed on the activities of other academics while further cultivating his reputation as a subversive. Between 1971 and 1986, however, Klaus had pursued a career at the Czechoslovak State Bank, an unlikely position for real dissidents against the communist regime.
In 1989, he entered politics as a member of the Civic Forum and was appointed finance minister. Three years later, he became prime minister. Klaus pushed the Civic Forum to the right and the so-called “Klaus wing” of the party became the nucleus of the currently ruling Civic Democratic Party. In 1997, Klaus resigned as prime minister due to complicity in a political funding and corruption scandal stemming from a secret Swiss bank account in his name.
Just over a year later, Klaus began a series of secret meetings with the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service’s resident (station chief) in Prague. An SVR officer told Eringer, “We opened an operational file on Klaus under the codename ‘Kolesnikov,’ and did not rule out the possibility of a recruitment attempt [on the basis of possessing his file and being privy to his darkest secret].”
“It is unclear,” concludes Eringer, “whether Mr. Klaus’s political career was resurrected with SVR assistance, but crystal clear that Mr. Klaus has since established an unusually close relationship with Russian supremo Vladimir Putin, who one year ago this month  rewarded Mr. Klaus — a fluent Russian speaker — with the Pushkin Medal, ostensibly for promoting Russian culture.”
Putin paid a rare state visit to the Czech Republic only after Klaus succeeded Havel as president in 2003. While hosting Putin, then president of the Russian Federation, Klaus’ meek behavior was described by Czech journalists as “borderline sycophancy.” Since then, Klaus’ support for the Putin regime has been “strong and unwavering.”
It is a well documented fact that the Russian SVR is very active in the Czech Republic and probably has connections with the (formerly ruling) Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM). In spite of warnings from the Security Information Service (BIS), President Klaus has done next to nothing to thwart Moscow’s influence in Prague. In terms of parliamentary representation, the KSCM is the fourth largest party in the Czech Republic.