Opposition leader Babiš criticizes Prime Minister Fiala for lobbying for Michal Strnad's CSG

Opposition leader Babiš criticizes Prime Minister Fiala for lobbying for Michal Strnad's CSG
Autor fotografie: SM|Popisek: Prime Minister Fiala, ex-Prime Minister Babiš, Michal Strnad (CSG)
06 / 06 / 2024, 13:00

In yesterday's pre-election debate between Prime Minister Petr Fiala (ODS) and former Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO), one of the topics was the Czech ammunition initiative in support of Ukraine. Babiš accused Fiala of being a lobbyist for the arms manufacturer Strnad.

The ammunition initiative is attracting attention. Much of the discussion was prompted by a recent Financial Times article. According to Czechoslovak Group owner Michal Strnad, there are major problems with components for the artillery shells and delivery dates will be extended. Prime Minister Fiala has repeatedly stated that deliveries will start in June. In a pre-election debate on CNN Prima News, former Prime Minister and chairman of the ANO movement Andrej Babiš blamed him for his approach so far: "He is chasing ammunition that is old, moldy and non-transparent," Babiš said, adding that the Prime Minister should focus more on peace initiatives. He accused Fiala of "just lobbying for the arms dealers."

Andrej Babiš literally said: "The ammunition for Ukraine is of poor quality, we have to replenish parts, says the Czech armourer for whom the President is on the phone to the Greek Prime Minister, to Zelensky, he is the main lobbyist today for the ammunition that doesn't work, that is old and moldy. The ammunition is even of Russian origin. And you know who gave them the money? I'll tell you. Out of the 39 billion (Czech crowns), Germany paid 500 million euros directly to the Ministry of Defence for the selected Czech armourer. That's 12.5 billion (Czech crowns). That's just a PR stunt. Why is the ammunition of poor quality? Why are you robbing the Ukrainians? (...) They are supplying them with low-quality and overpriced ammunition. And the Prime Minister pretends to be doing everything for Ukraine. The opposite is true."

Michal Strnad with Petr Fiala in Washington

Petr Fiala replied: "With the ammunition initiative, you're both treading on thin ice and endangering the safety of a lot of people. And the achievements of what we want to achieve here. Don't question the quality of these things, you know nothing about it." – "But that's what your Strnad says! You had him in the White House, that's what your armourer says," the ex-prime minister jumped in. "I didn't have any armourer in the White House, I really don't remember. I'm not a lobbyist for arms dealers," Fiala replied. Andrej Babiš pointed to a photo from the Prime Minister's trip to Washington this year, in which CSG owner Michal Strnad is sitting at the same table with the Prime Minister and national security adviser Pojar – the photo was taken at a gala dinner the day after Fiala met President Biden.

Strnad: "Every week the price increases and there are big problems with components"

With words about "old and mouldy" ammunition, Babiš was responding to a recent Financial Times article to which Czechoslovak Group owner Michal Strnad was interviewed, saying: "Every week the price is going up and there are big issues with the components." He also said, according to the Financial Times, that about 50% of the components his company has purchased on behalf of the Czech government in Africa and Asia are not of sufficient quality to be shipped to Ukraine. For some of the shells, CSG is forced to fill in missing components from its own production. CSG responded in a press release to the alleged shift in the message in some Czech media: "We draw attention to the shift in meaning that occurred, in particular, in the reception of the content of the Financial Times article in the Czech media, which resulted in false information that the ammunition for Ukraine has quality problems."

"We have been able to supply since June," Petr Fiala said in a debate with Babiš, but refused to answer a question about how much the Czech Republic is contributing to the initiative: "The material is in a classified mode, it's in the higher hundreds of millions of crowns. The public will certainly learn how it was, they will learn all the specifics. But the matter is not completely simple and it is not safe. It's not safe for the people who are doing it, who are supplying the ammunition. We can't even risk the prices being known. They could be moved on the world market. Someone could abuse it. We have to proceed as we are proceeding. But this thing is under control. It's under the control of the countries that are supplying those particular amounts of ammunition, nobody has to worry about anything."

Ammunition initiative: doubts about transparency, pricing and capacity

To the objection that Germany had made its contribution public, he said that "every country has different rules, chooses different tactics, approves it in a different mode." He repeated the figure, quoted by the Financial Times in late May, that the Czech Republic had collected €1.6 billion from donor countries. In this context, the Czech contribution of hundreds of millions of crowns is almost negligible. If the Government of the Czech Republic is worried about 'someone' influencing the price of ammunition on the world market, then the failure to quantify the modest Czech contribution and at the same time to mention the huge sum of EUR 1.6 billion cannot be understood. On the other hand, concerns about security are logical – not only after the Vrbětice experience. The big question, to which no one needs to know the exact answer, is where in the Czech Republic does anyone actually have the storage capacity for such huge volumes of artillery ammunition, and the capacity for their apparently unforeseen and unplanned repairs.

The control mentioned by Prime Minister Fiala on the part of the countries contributing to the ammunition is crucial in this respect, and we can only hope that it is not only Germany that is actually effectively supervising the proper implementation of the treaty and effective assistance to Ukraine. The doubts in the ammunition initiative were also discussed in a recent interview with SM by Lower House Vice-Chairman Karel Havlicek. And, in response to the described pre-election debate, ex-Defense Minister Lubomír Metnar, who also spoke out against the role of the armorer Strnad in the ammunition supplies, joining Babiš in saying that Fiala is lobbying for CSG: "The Fiala ammunition initiative is full of doubts. And the Prime Minister added one more yesterday when he tried to divert attention from the fact that he invited a major arms manufacturer to Washington who is benefiting from the initiative."

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