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Czech cybersecurity chief's firing not related to Huawei dispute

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis. Photo: Michal Cizek/AFP via Getty Images

The firing of the Czech Republic's cybersecurity director, Dusan Navratil, was not linked to an ongoing dispute with Chinese telecom giant Huawei, sources with direct knowledge tell Axios.

Why it matters: The Czech cybersecurity agency has fended off numerous overtures from Huawei, bucking the trend among Eastern European nations. Navratil’s departure does not signal a change in this stance.

A Dec. 17 article in the South China Morning Post described Navratil's firing as "the latest blow in a year-long dispute over threats posed by Chinese technology firms Huawei Technologies and ZTE."

But, but, but: Two sources with direct knowledge of the matter tell Axios Navratil's removal was wholly unrelated to the agency's policies regarding Huawei, and was instead due to his communication style and poor personal relationship with Prime Minister Andrej Babis.

  • One source emphasized that the cybersecurity chief's sacking had "nothing to do with the policies of the agency."
  • "The move to recall the director was personal," said the source. "It's the relationship with the prime minister," not the agency's operations or policies, that resulted in Navratil's dismissal. "This didn't come as a surprise," the source added.
  • A second source said Navratil's departure is not expected to affect policies on Huawei.

Background: The Czech cybersecurity agency has on multiple occasions served as a whistleblower for Huawei's plans in the country — placing it, at times, in opposition to Czech President Milos Zeman's own preferences.

  • In December 2018, the agency publicly accused Huawei and ZTE of cooperating with China's intelligence services.
  • That sparked an internal feud with Zeman, who had for years allowed Huawei to supply his staff with handsets. Zeman claimed the cybersecurity agency was engaging in "dirty tricks."

The big picture: The U.S. government has urged European nations to choose Nokia or Ericsson over the much cheaper Huawei option for 5G infrastructure contracts.

  • Germany and Britain have not yet committed to 5G providers.
  • This week, the Chinese ambassador to Germany threatened "consequences" if Germany excludes Huawei from its 5G market.

The bottom line: The Czech Republic, at the urging of its cybersecurity office, has become a leading European critic of Huawei. Don't expect that to change — at least, not yet.