The scandal surrounding the 2014 munitions depot blasts which the Czech government has blamed on Russian agents has taken a new twist. The news site Seznam has accused Deputy Prime Minister Jan Hamáček of having planned to hush up Russia’s involvement in the blasts in return for one million Sputnik V vaccines and the right to host a US-Russian summit on Czech soil.
The incriminating article on the Seznam news site exploded on the Czech political scene just days after Prague appeared to have gained the upper hand in the diplomatic stand-off with Moscow. Any gratification over the fact that Moscow accepted the Czech Republic’s demand for a parity representation at the two countries’ embassies –which will send home 63 Russian diplomats at the end of the month-quickly disappeared amid fresh controversy on the home scene. First President Miloš Zeman, who is known for his pro-Russian orientation, cast doubt on the findings of the Czech intelligence service –and shortly after, the news site Seznam.cz accused Deputy Prime Minister Jan Hamáček of planning to betray Czech interests – by bartering national security for vaccines. The accusation caused an uproar on the Czech political scene with opposition politicians labelling Jan Hamáček a traitor and demanding his immediate resignation.
A closed session of the lower house turned into a mudslinging match and had to be suspended after several hours. In the storm that erupted the heads of the country’s three intelligence services, the supreme state attorney and the police president did not even get a chance to speak.
However since then several high placed officials who attended a crucial meeting with the prime minister and deputy prime minister before news of Russian involvement in the Vrbětice blasts was made public have spoken out in Hamáček’s defence, saying nothing that transpired at the meeting indicated that the deputy prime minister wanted to hush-up the Vrbětice affair. At a press briefing on Wednesday Mr. Hamáček said he would sue those who had branded him a traitor.
“I have been waiting for the person behind these accusations who allegedly witnessed my devilish plan to betray the Czech Republic to step forward. That has not happened. To the contrary, people have gradually come to my defense, the supreme state attorney, the heads of foreign intelligence and military intelligence, the prime minister and the Czech ambassador to Russia. None of them confirmed the accusation and they came to my defense as much as possible within the bounds of confidentiality. I have been dragged through the mud and branded a traitor without a shred of evidence against me. My own reputation and my party’s good name have been damaged, so I have no option but to sue the authors of the article for slander and scaremongering, and I expect an apology from those of my colleagues who labelled me a traitor.”
In an interview for iDNES.cz the head of Military Intelligence Jan Beroun said Moscow knew the Czech Republic had incriminating evidence against its agents and could prepare its strategy in advance. One thing he noticed, he said, was the heightened activity of Russian trolls shortly before news of the scandal broke. He is not alone in noting that the present confusion and arguments on the Czech political scene are serving Moscow better than it could possibly have hoped for.