Recently it was discovered that President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, met with Russian banking officials during the transition period. Kushner is expected to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee, where representatives will be free to ask him about the previously undisclosed meeting.
Many Americans are still concerned if there are ties between President Putin’s government and President Trump’s administration. General Michael Flynn’s resignation brought further light into Russia’s attempt to interfere with America’s government and democracy.
Only now are Americans awaking to the full extent of President Putin’s comprehensive activities aimed at gaining influence abroad. However, Putin’s meddling is a recurring trend in many countries. We only have to look into the recent past to see Putin’s involvement in Ukraine, Syria and Georgia.
However, there is a much more obvious connection between the Czech Republic and Russia. The relationship between the two countries could prove to be toxic to European and American values. The NATO and EU member’s president, Milos Zeman, has expressed pro-Putin and anti-European feelings over the last few years.
According to The New York Times, Zeman has supported Putin’s intervention in Syria and called for an end to sanctions against Russia. He also called for a referendum to exit NATO.
Ties between Zeman and Putin deepen when looking at Zeman’s Russian associations. According to the Euromaidan Press, there appears to be a connection between the Czech President and President Putin’s close associate, Vladimir Yakunin. Yakunin is the former Director of OJSC Russian Railways, and is on the USG sanction list. He is also a senior officer in the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB, which succeeded the KGB after the fall of the Soviet Union.
At the Dialogue of Civilizations, otherwise known as the Rhodes Forum, the President of the Czech Republic was the only European leader to attend. According to Euromaidan Press, the organizers of the event paid for Zeman’s travel expenses to the event, where the Czech leader expressed anti-western and pro-Putin sympathies.
According to the New York Times, Zeman and Yakunin have had ties going back many years. There has also been evidence of Russian oil money being tied to Zeman. Many Czech officials are fearful that the Russian Federation is attempting to build up its influence similar to that of the Soviet Union.
A pro-Putin European leader should be troubling to most Americans and Europeans, as the Czech Republic is a member of NATO and the EU, and has a voice in these alliances. President Zeman has offered to host a meeting between the presidents of the United States, Russia and China.
However, Zeman’s influence in Europe is small. He does not influence European or NATO politics like England or Germany. His actions and rhetoric leave him in low regard among his fellow Europeans. Many other Czech politicians fear that the Kremlin is buying his influence, and is using him as a tool to influence their country’s politics. According to the New York Times, several Czech politicians feel that Putin is influencing their country through Zeman as the Kremlin did back in the days of the Soviet Union. Many fear that Putin is using Zeman to undermine western influence in Eastern Europe.
President Zeman has told The Washington Post and several European media that he is going to meet with President Trump in April of 2017. Zeman’s anti-NATO rhetoric and close ties to Yakunin and Putin beg the question whether this meeting is with a friendly European nation or a tool of Putin’s government.