National Security

Is Czech Prime Minister Visit a Victory for Trump or Just a Head Fake?

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis is in Washington to meet with President Trump.  Babis, a billionaire with a checkered past, often has been accused of having been an officer of Czech or Soviet intelligence during the Cold War.  He has an on-again, off-again relationship with Czech President Milos Zeman, who is widely viewed as a front man for Russian President Vladimir Putin.  He is mired in several political and financial scandals.

Head Fake Toward Washington?

Babis (pronounced BAB-ish) has made several pro-American and anti-Russian moves since becoming Prime Minister, however, and it is right that he should be encouraged to move in our direction.  He extradited a Russian hacker to the U.S. last year, thumbing his nose at Moscow and satisfying an important American objective.  He defied Moscow again by supporting Macedonia’s bid for membership in NATO.

Russian agents attempted to assassinate former GRU officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury, UK last year.  In response, Babis bravely joined the rest of the EU nations and ejected several Russian diplomats from the Czech Republic.  Given the high level of influence of Russian intelligence services in Prague, this was no easy decision.

On a wholly pro-American front, Babis has opened investment discussions with the United States.  Following initial outreach, he sent an official delegation to the SelectUSA Investment Summit last June.

All these activities have been noted in Washington, and the presence here of the Prime Minister is a good indication that they have made a positive impression.

Can Westinghouse Beat Rosatom?

High on the list of priorities for President Trump and the American government is the opportunity for Westinghouse to participate in the upcoming tender for a new nuclear power plant in the Czech Republic.  Westinghouse is the only U.S. firm qualified to bid on the project.

PM Babis may be holding out hope to the White House that Westinghouse has a chance to win a multi-billion dollar project that would resurrect its fading nuclear energy business.  But the top contender for the project always has been Rosatom, the Russian atomic energy company.  I have written about Rosatom before, in a series which provoked a threat of a defamation suit when I opined that Rosatom serves as a front for Russian intelligence assets.

Will Andrej Babis have the guts to deny the biggest contract in recent Czech history to Rosatom, the formidable operator?  Just this week, Russian Minister of Trade and Industry Denis Manturov was in Prague for meetings with President Zeman and several Czech Ministers. At the close of his visit, he pointedly reiterated Rosatom’s intent to participate in the nuclear tender.  That will be understood (correctly) by PM Babis as a strong message while he is in Washington, not to make any firm promises to the Americans.

No Checks – Cash Only, Please

What Babis will do will be determined as much by his perception of his own interests as by the interests of Czechia.  But President Trump and his advisors, and Westinghouse and its supporters, would do well to be very cautious in dealing with him.  Accept nothing at face value, and make no commitments that are not conditioned upon absolute reciprocation.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Bart Marcois

Bart Marcois (@bmarcois) was the principal deputy assistant secretary of energy for international affairs during the Bush administration. Additionally, Marcois served as a career foreign service officer with the State Department.

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