On 10 May, Czech media outlets (the newspaper Seznam Pravdy1and the TV channel CT12) revealed that they have come into possession of information that a Russian citizen who had arrived in the country to poison two Czech officials is, in fact, the head of the Kremlin’s soft power machine Rossotrudnichestvo Andrey Konchakov.
Prior to this, information was leaked to Czech media3 that on 14 March a Russian spy had arrived in Prague via airplane and was able to freely transport ricin in his suitcase because of his diplomatic status. Later, this person, now identified as Konchakov, was escorted in a diplomatic vehicle to the Russian embassy in Prague.
Czech intelligence services were aware of this happening but out of fear of causing a diplomatic scandal with Moscow Konchakov’s suitcase was not examined at the airport.
Instead, Czech intelligence officers decided to arrange personal security for the potential victims of the assassination – Mayor of Prague Zdenek Hrib and Head of Prague’s 6th District Ondrey Kolar.4 Both men were responsible for the removal of the statue of Marshal Ivan Konev, which provoked unprecedented wrath from Moscow.
Czech media have numerous times linked Konchakov with activities of Russian intelligence services,5 and these doubts are most likely justified, because historically such organizations as Rossotrudnichestvo have always served the needs of Russian spies and agents of influence.
It is interesting that this is not the first time Russian spies have used diplomatic cover to poison foreign nationals. I will remind that in January Bulgaria charged three Russian spies for the assassination of local arms manufacturer Emilian Gebrev.6 It was later uncovered that the spies had ties to the Russian GRU elite unit 29155.7 Members of this unit have been previously linked with the attempted coup in Montenegro8 and the 2018 poisoning of former Russian spy Sergey Skripal.9
It should be said that some time ago, in 2012, Latvia too experienced Russia’s taste for attacking foreign citizens when local journalist Leonīds Jākobsons was heavily injured by two unknown men.
The attackers, who communicated in Russian, intercepted the journalist – who was fiercely critical of Moscow and local pro-Kremlin politicians – along with his son in a stairwell, knocked them down and used a knife to leave a deliberate scar on the journalist’s face.10
Jākobsons was certain that the attack was directly linked to his professional activities. Prior to the attack, the journalist published on the website kompromat.lv an e-mail conversation between Mayor of Riga Nils Ušakovs and advisor in the Russian Embassy Aleksandr Khapilov who, unofficially, was considered a Russian intelligence officer.11 It cannot be ruled out that the attack against Jākobsons in 2012 was too carried out by Russian intelligence services.
The last years have shown that Russian intelligence services have become even more aggressive and shameless. If previously only Russian citizens had to worry about being punished by the Kremlin, now it seems that the entire world has to stay alert.
The most absurd thing in all of this is that, despite numerous cases of Russian spies blatantly interfering in the domestic affairs of different European nations, the government’s of these nations continue maintaining relatively normal relations with the official Moscow and go out of their way to avoid any diplomatic confrontation with Russia.
Czechia and its president Miloš Zeman are no exception – after a Russian spy attempted to poison the mayor of Czechia’s capital, the president proudly announced that he has promised Vladimir Putin that he will attend the rescheduled Victory Day parade in Moscow which is to take place in September this year.12
Quo vadis Europa?
*Janis Makonkalns, Latvian freelance journalist and blogger