Friday, 22 September 2017

Respekt: Role of Zeman's aide Nejedlý is crucial, but unclear

ČTK |
12 September 2017

Prague, Sept 11 (CTK) - Martin Nejedly, a key aide to President Milos Zeman, is one of the most influential figures in the Czech Republic, but he always remains in the background and his role and mandate in the Czech administrative are unclear, weekly Respekt writes in its issue out on Monday.

Officially, Nejedly is a regular aide to Zeman, but unofficially his position is the most strategic at the Presidential Office. He has his own office on the same floor as Zeman, politicians and entrepreneurs come to visit him and the talks can be held unnoticed, without the media being present. He has a secretary and two drivers for his dark Mercedes, Respekt writes.

It says his role allows Nejedly to move in the backstage. He has no ceremonial duties as the president’s aide, he is not paid by the Presidential Office and he needs no security vetting from the National Security Office, the weekly writes.

Nejedly confirmed to Respekt that he does not have the vetting.

All this makes Nejedly practically invisible, although his activities include everything from foreign policy to security and financial affairs and the most sensitive pieces of information get to him, Respekt writes.

The former car dealer became an aide because he helped Zeman win the presidential election in 2013 by finding sponsors for his campaign. Controversial lobbyist Miroslav Slouf introduced Nejedly to the top levels of Czech business and politics, the weekly writes.

It writes that Nejedly’s talks in Russia provide at least some information about his activities.

According to Respect’s sources, Nejedly visited Moscow twice this year. In the spring, he talked to President Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov, an experienced diplomat with influence in the Kremlin and a direct access to Putin.

The Nejedly-Ushakov talks allegedly concerned a meeting between Putin and Zeman to be held in Beijing in May, but Nejedly claims that his trip was private. He says he only took part in Ushakov’s 70th birthday and no political negotiations were held, Respekt writes.

But there is no way to verify Nejedly’s statement. The Czech embassy in Moscow had no official information on his visit. Nejedly is not part of the foreign affairs section of the Presidential Office, the members of which usually make such trips and officially report about them, Respekt writes.

Nejedly and Ushakov met together with their bosses, Zeman and Putin, at a summit meeting on an ambitious plan of the Chinese leaders, the New Silk Road, in May. The Zeman-Putin talks are said to be an impulse for Nejedly’s second trip to Moscow.

Zeman told Putin that Czech firms would like to participate in the contracts that the Russian nuclear company Rosatom had in Europe. Rosatom, which is in the Kremlin’s sphere of influence, is planning to build a nuclear power plant in Hungary. Putin did not reject this. Rosatom would be glad to participate in the nuclear programme in the Czech Republic, Putin told Zeman, referring to the planned construction of new reactors in Czech nuclear power plants, Respekt writes.

In June, Nejedly and Rosatom head Alexei Likhachev met behind closed doors and neither the Czech nor the Russian public received any information about the meeting, Respekt writes.

It is widely known that Russia plays one of the main roles in the nuclear business in the world. However, Putin’s Russia has been patiently building a fine network in the countries surrounding it in order to make them dependent on Moscow and nuclear power is crucial in this, Respekt writes.

This is a high geopolitical game: if Czech firms get any contracts abroad from Rosatom, this could be an advantage for Rosatom in the planned tender for building new units in the Czech nuclear plant Temelin. Apart from Russia, France, the USA and South Korea have shown interest in the project.

Nejedly’s Russian mission undoubtedly gives an advantage to one of the possible bidders. The question is what mandate Nejedly had to negotiate and whose interests he actually represented in Moscow, Respekt writes.

Along with Nejedly, Czech Deputy Industry Minister Lenka Kovacovska and Peter Bodnar, who represented the Alliance of the Czech Energy Industry, took part in the meeting with the Rosatom management.

The Alliance of the Czech Energy Industry signed an agreement on future cooperation with Rosatom in Moscow. Nejedly said Rosatom already started addressing some Czech firms.

According to available information, the meeting with Rosatom was not organised by the Czech government. Kovacovska said the Presidential Office invited her to join the meeting. Nejedly officially had the role of Zeman’s aide, but his mission also seemed private. He paid also the costs including the flight ticket and accommodation himself.

Nejedly has issued no report on the talks with Rosatom.

According to experts on Russia, the Kremlin often supports people who have a direct or backstage political influence in other European countries in order to push through its own interests. Cases of politicians or people with links to them being paid by Moscow appeared in France, Hungary and Austria in recent years, Respekt writes.

It says Nejedly was a representative of a Czech subsidiary of the Russian Lukoil firm, which lost a court dispute and had to pay many millions of crowns to the Czech state. Nejedly was responsible for the high debt, but the Russian Lukoil finally send him the money, Respekt writes.

Nejedly dismissed the idea that he had any financial profit from the talks he led in Moscow, but he refused to say what is the source of his income now, Respekt writes.

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