September 25, 2008 / 1:28 PM / 10 years ago

Czechs say Russian spies stir against U.S. base

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Russian spies are extremely active in the Czech Republic and are stirring public sentiment against a planned U.S. missile defense base, the Czech counter-intelligence agency said on Thursday.

In a 2007 annual report, the Security Information Service (BIS) said Russian spies’ wider aim may be to weaken the integrity of the NATO alliance and isolate the United States.

The United States plans to build a radar station in the Czech Republic and place interceptor rockets in Poland as part of its global shield against ballistic missiles that it says could be fired by adversaries such as Iran.

Russia, increasingly aggressive in foreign policy, fiercely opposes the plan, which will bring U.S. military hardware into countries that once belonged to the former Soviet empire.

“The intelligence services of the Russian Federation have attempted in the past year to contact, infiltrate and influence people and organizations that have influence on public opinion,” the BIS report said.

“Russian espionage activities in the Czech Republic currently reach an exceptionally high intensity.”

The plan to host the U.S. radar is highly unpopular in the central European NATO member, where the public is wary of any foreign military presence, largely due to the Soviet invasion of 1968.

The BIS said the Russian spies had focused on non-government organizations, politicians and the media to drum up opposition to the missile defense base, but they may have a wider plan.

“The BIS believes the active Russian measures against the Czech Republic and its allies were possibly part of a wider and long-term Russian campaign whose aim is to impair the integrity of the EU and NATO, isolate the United States and renew control over the lost Soviet security perimeter in Europe,” it said.

Increasingly strained relations between Russia and the West hit a new post-Cold War low after Russia invaded Georgia last month and recognized the independence of the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Giles Elgood

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