Czech Republic expels 18 Russian embassy staff

PRAGUE, APR 18 (IANS) | Publish Date: 4/18/2021 12:35:48 PM IST

The Czech Republic is expelling 18 employees of the Russian embassy in Prague, who were allegedly “identified as members of the Russian secret services”, Foreign Minister Jan Hamacek said at news conference.

“As the Czech Foreign Minister, I decided to expel all the employees of the Russian embassy in Prague who have been clearly identified by our special services as officers of the Russian intelligence agencies SVR and GRU. Within 48 hours, 18 staff members of the Russian embassy must leave the Czech Republic,” he said on Saturday.

According to local media reports, the move comes in response to evidence obtained by the country’s security services which suggests Russia’s involvement in two ammunition depot explosions in 2014 in the Czech Republic which killed two people.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Andrej Babis said in the same news conference that “there is well-grounded suspicion about the involvement of officers of the Russian intelligence service GRU, unit 29155, in the explosion of ammunitions depot in the Vrbetice area”. In response to the Czech decision, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that “Prague is well aware what follows such ‘tricks’”.

Saturday’s development came a day after Hamacek, who is also the Interior Minister, cancelled his working visit to Moscow scheduled for April 19, TASS News Agency reported. He wrote on Twitter that his decision had been prompted by the need to attend a Czech government meeting on April 19.

Russia says it will retaliate hard against Czechs over diplomat expulsions
Russia said Czech accusations that Russian spy services were behind an explosion in an ammunition depot were unfounded and absurd and it would retaliate for Prague’s expulsion of 18 Russian embassy staff.
The Czech Republic said it had informed NATO and European Union allies about suspected Russian involvement in the blast, which killed two people, and the matter would be addressed at an EU foreign ministers’ meeting on Monday. The expulsions and allegations by the Czechs have triggered its biggest dispute with Russia since the 1989 end of Communist rule, when Prague was under Moscow’s domination for decades.
The incident also poured more fuel on the worst Russian-Western tensions since the Cold War, stirred in part by Russia’s military build-up on its Western borders and in Crimea, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014, after a surge in fighting between government and rebel forces in Ukraine’s east. The Czech Republic kicked out the Russian embassy staff on Saturday after saying investigations had linked Russian intelligence to the blast in the ammunition depot some 300 km (210 miles) east of the capital Prague.

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