Last week's events concerning the pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign




Further fallout from the 'VrbeticeGate'- more EU countries expel Russian diplomats.

Russia announces troop withdrawal after weeks of operations along its border with Ukraine.

US Congressmen condemn the ongoing treatment of Alexey Navalny.

Russia identified as the likely culprit behind directed-energy attacks against US troops.

Old habits die hard: Kremlin rejects blame for Vrbětice incident, pointing to conspiracy instead.

Good Old Soviet Joke

How do the Czechs know that the Earth is round?

In 1945 they drove the occupiers to the west, and in 1968, they returned from the east.

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Policy & Research News

Further fallout from ‘VrbeticeGate’

Read our full report of the Russian military attack on Czech territory here.

Following on from the events of last week which culminated in the expulsion of a large proportion of the Russian diplomatic presence in Prague, on Friday 23rd April the Baltic NATO allies Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania announced they would expel a handful of Russian diplomats in solidarity with the Czech Republic. That same day, Slovakia announced the expulsion of 3 Russian diplomats from the embassy in Bratislava, while on Monday the Prime Ministers of fellow Visegrad group members Poland and Hungary expressed their solidarity with the Czech government.

They were also joined on Monday by Romania, who have declared the Russian deputy military attaché in Bucharest a persona non grata, according to a Foreign Ministry statement. Taking into account the recent ousting of Russian diplomats from embassies in Warsaw and Sofia following separate incidences of Russian espionage and hostile activity, this week brings the total number to eight former Warsaw Pact nations and former soviet republics (in addition to Ukraine) now taking concrete steps to combat Russian covert influence operations, in what has been described as an unprecedented awakening for Central and Eastern Europe.

Notably absent from this awakening, however, was Hungary under the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán who has tried to maintain warm relations with the Kremlin and reportedly blocked a harsher version of this week’s Visegrad group condemnation – which would have called for the cancellation of the Nord Stream 2 project and voiced support for Ukraine and Belarus – accepting a toned-down, softer version of the joint statement instead.

Meanwhile, in response to the displays of solidarity with the Czech Republic, Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law potentially limiting the number of Russians allowed to be employed at the embassies of ‘unfriendly’ countries. The law, announced on Friday, directs the government to draw up a list of such countries and will affect not only those countries' embassies, but consular offices and offices of state institutions as well. Finally, the 20 Czech diplomats expelled from the embassy in Moscow may find themselves employed again soon after the Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba invited them to work in Kyiv in order to “strengthen the Czech diplomatic presence in our country”. 

Russia announces troop withdrawal after weeks of operations along its border with Ukraine

Russian Minister of Defence Sergei Shoygu announced on April 22 that the goal of Russia’s weeks-long military operations along the border with Ukraine had been fulfilled and ordered troops to return to their home bases by May 1. The Russian decision was publicised a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annual State of the Nation Address, at which he underscored that Russia is prepared to act decisively against any foreign threat. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky responded on April 22 that Ukraine “welcomes any steps to decrease the military presence” and thanked international partners for support. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba recognised that whereas troop withdrawals may temporarily reduce tensions, they do little to placate the conflict in the Donbas.

As Russia began pulling back troops, Zelensky called for Western involvement in revising or replacing the Minsk II Protocol. Zelensky also expressed his intention to organise bilateral talks with Putin, to discuss Russia’s show of force, which analysts believe was intended to intimidate Ukraine into making a concession. Shortly after Shoygu’s announcement, Putin stated that Zelensky is welcome to discuss bilateral relations in Moscow. However, Putin emphasised that Zelensky should discuss matters related to the Donbas with leaders of the unrecognised self-proclaimed "Donetsk and Luhansk Republics". Zelensky has replied that he has “no intention of talking to terrorists.”  

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US Developments

US Congressmen condemn the ongoing treatment of Alexey Navalny

Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Congressman Joe Wilson (SC-02), leaders of the Helsinki Commission, released a statement calling on the Biden administration to “continue to raise the cost on Vladimir Putin and his remaining allies.” Meanwhile, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, threatened further sanctions against the Russian banking and financial sector, stating that “[Navalny’s imprisonment] is barbarism playing out in real-time, and we cannot be silent.” On the same day as Senator Menendez’s statement, Representatives Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) introduced a bipartisan resolution in the House of Representatives in order to condemn Russia’s “attempted assassination” of Navalny.

Russia identified as the likely culprit behind directed-energy attacks against US troops

On April 22, Politico reported that earlier this year, the Pentagon briefed select US lawmakers on the attacks, identifying Russia as the “likely” culprit. This was reiterated in a House Armed Services briefing, where officials warned lawmakers that “the phenomenon of suspected directed-energy attacks on U.S. personnel […] is growing across the world.”

Directed-energy attacks on US officials have been occurring since late 2016 and have been the topic of investigation by the Department of Defense for the past year. According to Politico’s reporting, the topic of the Pentagon’s intelligence briefing included attacks on US troops in Syria in the fall of 2020; however, the head of the US Central Command, General Frank McKenzie, stated in a Senate Armed Services Committee meeting that he has “found no evidence of those attacks in US Central Command.”

Kremlin's Current Narrative

Old habits die hard: Kremlin rejects blame for the Vrbětice incident, pointing to conspiracy instead

Russia has continued to deny any involvement in the 2014 Czech Republic depot explosion, which had led to an increase in diplomatic tensions between the Czech Republic and Russia. The Kremlin has been keen to alleviate any political pressure, with officials making an effort to place blame elsewhere.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, has attempted to shroud the situation in mystery, suggesting that “there were depots that were not controlled by that country’s government, by neither of its official structures in the Czech Republic.” Zakharova also attempted to link the situation to the West in general, claiming that the Czech Republic had been “roped into this crusade,” by unnamed “Western sponsors.” This sentiment was shared by Sergei Naryshkin, director of Russia’s SVR intelligence service.

Naryshkin argued that an “elite clique of Western nations” had sought to wreck international stability and security while stating that the Czech Republic “got what it deserved,” when it decided to confront Russia. The intelligence director went on to claim that the Czech Republic has resorted to lies, and was joined by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in attempting to undermining the situation.

Lavrov called for the EU to investigate, stating that the “EU should probably examine all these confusing comments and statements, which are not very emotionally sane.” Yet, it remains unlikely that the Kremlin would accept any findings that they dislike, especially when the content of the state-backed media is considered.

RT reported that Russia may use sanctions against the Czech Republic, in response to Prague’s “unprecedently aggressive actions.” Meanwhile, Sputnik quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov who announced that the accusations around the Vrbětice incident had damaged bilateral relations and were ultimately “groundless.” Finally, TASS quoted Czech ex-president Vaclav Klaus as suggesting Prague is attempting to score points with the West and NATO. With the situation deteriorating for Russia, it would have been fruitful for the Kremlin to engage in classical diplomacy, then again, old habits die hard.

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Kremlin Watch is a strategic program of the European Values Center for Security Policy, which aims to expose and confront instruments of Russian influence and disinformation operations focused against the liberal-democratic system.

For comments. suggestions or media inquiries, please contact the Head of the Kremlin Watch Program Veronika Víchová at 

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