Babiš in the White House

The White House || Public Domain

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has returned from his three-day visit to the USA. Given the similarities between the Czech and American leaders, the negotiations went, allegedly, better than well. Prague and Washington have found a common ground when discussing implementing active measures against the Huawei technology. However, the most important question Americans asked was hidden between the lines: Are you still our ally?

After more than seven years, the Czech PM visited the White House. The honor was given to the leader of the ANO movement Andrej Babiš. Given the fact that Babiš is often nicknamed in the media “the Czech Trump”, it is actually surprising that the visit did not happen sooner.

The similarities between the two politicians are, indeed, striking. Both are billionaires and self-made businessmen who had directly entered politics at a late stage in their lives. Both owe their success partly to a very-well-thought-through marketing plan and in part to a very distinctive rhetoric with a tendency to simplify their political strategy by means of catch phrases such as “run country like a business” and “make America great again.” Finally, they have both married stunningly beautiful women with a weak spot for expensive designer clothes.

However, the relations between the two countries have not been ideal for a long time. One of the most important reasons was Czech President Miloš Zeman, often called “the Kremlin Trojan Horse”. He was actually one of the few heads of states who have publicly expressed support for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.

For this gesture, Zeman had expected an early-bird invitation to the White House. He has publicly claimed to be invited on several occasions; however, the actual visit never took place. According to unofficial sources, Donald Trump was repetitively strongly warned against meeting with the Czech president because of Zeman’s close connections to the Kremlin.

One can only imagine the increased tension between the president and the prime minister after Babiš was granted the honor Zeman and his whole team had been failing to gain for over three years.

Warming of Relations

Warming of the mutual relations has started after the Czech Republic decided to extradite the Russian hacker Yevgenyi Nikulin, who was arrested in Prague based on an FBI arrest warrant.

Both the Russian Federation and the United States asked for him to be extradited to their respective countries. The choice was in the hands of the Minister of Justice from the ANO party, who eventually decided to extradite Nikulin to the United States.

Alas, the two politicians were still lacking a reason to justify the meeting. Luckily, the Czech National Cyber and Information Security Agency (NÚKIB) had recently published an official warning against using Huawei hardware and software because their products may pose a serious threat to the state security. Babiš has taken this warning very seriously and is currently taking active steps to ban Chinese “unreliable” technology in all state institutions.

After being a role-model country in countering hybrid warfare, the Czech Republic is now taking a lead in implementing measures to prevent the presence of Chinese risky technology in key infrastructure and state institutions in the country.

Since the USA has been taking a similarly hard stance on China for its increasing attempts to install spyware into the exported technology, President Trump welcomed an unexpected Central European ally more than warmly.

This new coalition might be, however, problematic for Germany, which is still entertaining a more liberal stand towards Huawei. Washington is currently urging Berlin to limit mutual exchange of classified information, as Germany is perceived in the White House as an unreliable partner.

The Right Answer

Cyber security was one of the main topic of Babiš’s official visit to the USA. This is not surprising, as Czech experts organized a cyber security training for the American Congress a few months prior to the visit.

Still, other issues were also discussed during the session (from nuclear energy to the purchase of new helicopters for the Czech military).

Nevertheless, it is important not to focus so much on details but preferably to read between the lines. The US negotiation team consisted of top representatives, which sends out a clear signal: this meeting is strategically important to us.

The question Americans were asking the Czech PM was also quite clear: Whose side are you on? Are you still our ally? And judging by the overly cheerful press conference, Andrej Babiš gave very satisfying answers during the meeting behind the closed door of the Oval Office. After all, a meeting with populistic Trump is more wlecome by PM’s supporters back at home  than would be a meeting with progressive and liberal Barack Obama.

Both businessmen found a common ground in complaining about the EU quite easily. Presiden Trump did not forget to mention that the negotiations with China are much swifter than those with the EU28. In response, the Czech PM declared he would ask the EU Commissioner who is in charge of the negotiations to make it more effective.

In light of these developments, it becomes unclear whether Andrej Babiš wishes to become a mediator between the USA and the EU. Thus, whether this visit is a positive signal for the latter remains to be seen.

Adela Kleckova
Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom