Manafort Indictment Is Good News For Trump, Bad News For Putin’s Friends In Europe
Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson reported last week that according to a source with knowledge of Robert Mueller’s investigation, Mueller is not narrowly focused on alleged ties between Russia and President Trump. Instead, “The investigation has broadened to determine which people and organizations in Washington have spent years working secretly as de facto operatives on behalf of the Russian government.”
Paul Manafort’s indictment seems to bear out Carlson’s scoop. 12 counts, 31 pages, and it covers only actions from before 2016, and had no relationship to Trump. But there was plenty about Manafort’s work with Putin ally Viktor Yanukovich; that’s bad news for Russia’s agents of influence in Europe as well as Washington.
Mueller need look no further than America’s ally, the Czech Republic, for a pattern of Russian influence. Russian pressure is greater in Prague than in any other NATO country, at least as measured by the presence of spies working under diplomatic cover. Both the president and the probable new prime minister are suspected of Russian connections. And Mueller’s investigation sets a precedent for other Western investigations of Russian influence.
Czech billionaire Andrej Babis won national elections in October with 29.6 percent of the vote, almost three times the votes of his nearest competitor, but so far he has been unable to convince anyone but the Communists and Czech President Zeman to back his claim to become Prime Minister. The other parties are refusing to join him: although he won, they know 70 percent of Czechs voted against him.
European political leaders distrust Babis’ commitment to NATO and the EU. He faces Czech and possible EU indictments for fraud, he has a reputation for misusing police and prosecutors to punish political opponents and crush commercial competitors, and the Ministries his party headed were responsible for the shocking 2016 release of the Russia-linked Hezbollah arms trader, Ali Fayyad. The Ali Fayyad affair alone brought his name to the attention of Congressmen and Senators on the Intelligence and Foreign Affairs committees.
However, the Czech Republic is a democratic society, and Babis did win a clear plurality of votes in free and fair elections. The results cannot be ignored. But how can the other parties guarantee a continued pro-Western policy, and what can Babis do to alleviate concerns about his allegiances?
This is where a parliamentary system offers a solution not possible in the American system. The traditional parties should feel a responsibility to enter the governing coalition, but only on condition that they control the national security Ministries, and that the highly reputable Czech National Security Office and Counterintelligence Agency (BIS) be left independent of political interference.
Babis should see this suggestion as in his own best interest. If respected national security officers find themselves threatened by a political takeover that would return the Czech Republic to a Soviet-style police state, an internal rebellion will provoke action from allied services in the West. Any act taken by his government that affects foreign relations will be seen as either confirmation of his Russian ties, or a betrayal of them. The choice makes him an enemy of either American or Russian generals.
For example, there is a Russian hacker in Czech custody who is wanted by American authorities; his extradition is strongly opposed by Russia. If Babis controls the Justice Ministry, will his first act be to refuse the U.S. request, or to grant extradition in an act Putin will see as a betrayal? If the Ministry is controlled by a pro-West coalition partner, the matter is out of his hands.
As another example, a pro-NATO Defense Minister will increase defense spending and convert the defense industrial base from Soviet specifications to NATO standards. Any foot-dragging on this score by a Babis-affiliated Minister will open him up to charges of divided loyalty. If Babis is in charge of national security, if he even just makes a mistake, it will be interpreted as Putin-inspired.
The pro-West Czech parties should enter the coalition, and protect Andrej Babis from himself by keeping him away from those ministries. His only protection is to give them to someone trusted by the West. Otherwise, he may find himself facing the persistent inquiries of American, German and French authorities. If Babis ignores this advice, and instead tries to take over national security, he should expect Washington and Brussels to act decisively to ensure that he does not lead the Czechs backward.
U.S. policy will no longer allow Putin to dominate Europe. Countering Russian active measures against the West is a priority for the Republican Administration and Congress. Russia is regrouping to pursue updated active measures against the transatlantic union. The question is whether Babis will act as part of renewed active measures or as an allied prime minister.
Views expressed in op-eds are not the views of The Daily Caller.