Czechs expel more Russians in conflict over 2014 depot blast

Prague-Czech Republic ordered more Russian diplomats to leave the country on Thursday, furthering the dispute between the two countries over alleged involvement of Russian spies in the 2014 massive ammunition detonation explosion Intensified.

Foreign Minister Yakubu Kurhanek said Russia would not be allowed to have more diplomats in Prague than the Czechs currently at the Moscow embassy. Everything else must be gone by the end of May, he said.

He estimated that about 60 Russians would have to go.

Czech secret agencies have repeatedly warned that Moscow has a disproportionate number of diplomats at the European Union’s embassy, ​​which it uses as a base for undercover espionage.

Alexandre Zumeevsky, the car of the Russian ambassador to Prague, parks in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Prague
The car of Russia’s Ambassador to Prague, Alexander Zumeevsky, was parked on April 21, 2021 in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Prague, Czech Republic. (Petr David Josek / AP Photo)

“I don’t want to escalate anything,” Kulhanek said. “It’s not the role of the Foreign Minister, but the Czech Republic is a confident country and will act accordingly.”

He said the Czechs had to respond to the activities of Russian agents on Czech territory.

“It was the Russian side that paralyzed the situation, not the Czech side,” he said, and Prague is ready to discuss how to set the number of employees of the diplomatic mission “to function effectively” with Moscow. He added that it was done.

Family Russian diplomats are waiting in line to check in at Vaclav Havel Airport after a Russian special government plane has landed in Prague
A Russian diplomat with a family is waiting to check in at Vaclav Havel Airport after a Russian special government aircraft landed in Prague, Czech Republic on April 19, 2021. (Petr David Josek / AP Photo)

Moscow reacted immediately.

“Prague is on the road to destroying relations,” said Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry. “They are in an unlimited anti-Russian situation.”

Last weekend, the Czech government expelled 18 Russian diplomats identified as spies from GRU and SVR, Russian military and foreign intelligence agencies. In response, Russia expelled 20 Czech diplomats.

The Czech government has protested what is called Russia’s “inappropriate reaction”, saying the move has paralyzed the Czech embassy in Moscow.

Kulhanek will allow 20 Czech diplomats to return home or set a deadline at noon on Thursday to see the staff of the Russian embassy in Prague reduced to the number remaining at the Czech embassy in Moscow. I gave it to the Russian government.

The minister said Russia did not give an official response.

“The Czech Republic is interested in establishing a proper relationship with the Russian Federation on the basis of the principles of two sovereign states,” said Andrej Babiš. “Russia wanted to admit that the reaction was inadequate, but our proposal to cool the situation was not answered.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned a Czech ambassador to the ministry on Thursday.

“This kind of tone is unacceptable while talking to Russia,” Zakarowa said.

Czech leaders said Saturday that there was information and evidence provided by security services that two agents from Russia’s elite GRU unit 29155 participated in the 2014 depot explosion that killed them. .. Russia denied it.

The same two Russians were accused in absentia in 2018 for attempting to kill former Russian spy Sergei Scripal and his daughter in the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok in the British city of Salisbury. ..

Kulhanek and Michal Koudelka, heads of Czech counterintelligence services known as BIS, explained the situation on Thursday to NATO allies, who cast their weight behind the Czechs.

“The allies are in full solidarity with the Czech Republic, expressing deep concern over the volatile actions Russia continues to take throughout the Euro-Atlantic region, including its allies,” the allies said in a statement. ..

Neighboring Slovakia became the first NATO ally to expel Russian diplomats as a sign of solidarity with the Czechs on Thursday. Prime Minister Eduard Heger said three diplomats had been given a seven-day vacation. Their expulsion was based on information from national intelligence agencies.

By Karel Janicek