The Czech Republic must expel 18 Russian diplomats suspected that Russian security services were involved in explosions at a Czech ammunition dump in 2014.
Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on the basis of “unequivocal evidence” from the Czech security services, there were “founded suspicions” that officers of the 29155 unit of the Russian military intelligence service of the GRU were involved. in the explosions near the village of Vrbetice, in which two of the people died.
“The Czech Republic is a sovereign state and must respond accordingly to these unprecedented findings,” Babis said in a brief statement on Saturday evening, adding that investigations were continuing.
Russian officials have denied any Russian involvement in the blasts. Vladimir Dzhabarov, deputy head of the international relations committee at the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament, said the Czech allegations were “absurd”.
“We have never done anything like this in our life. It’s ridiculous. Why do we have to blow something up in the Czech Republic? He told Russian news agency Tass. “It’s just an artificial situation to support the Americans.”
The Czech deportations come amid growing concern in Western capitals over a Russian military build-up on its border with Ukraine, as well as heightened tensions between Washington and Moscow.
On Thursday, the United States imposed new sanctions on Russia, including individuals and companies accused of participating in efforts to interfere in the U.S. election and carry out cyber attacks. Russia retaliated the next day by expelling 10 U.S. diplomats and placing restrictions on those allowed to stay in the country.
Czech Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said Czech-Russian relations would inevitably suffer from the latest dispute, but the Czech Republic had no choice but to react to information provided by its security services.
“We are in a similar situation to the UK in the case of. . . poisoning attempt in Salisbury, ”he said, referring to the attempted murder of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in 2018.
Russia has denied any involvement in the assassination attempt, which was carried out using a novichok nerve agent.
Hamacek said the 18 Russians to be deported from the Czech Republic had been identified as working for Russian intelligence agencies GRU and SVR and would have 48 hours to leave the country.
At the same time, the Czech police issued a request for assistance in searching for two men who they said were in the Czech Republic from October 11 to 16, 2014, on the day of the explosion in the ammunition dump.
He said the men carried a variety of passports, including Russian passports with the names of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov – aka used by two Russian intelligence agents accused by the UK of the attempted murder of Skripal.
Both men have denied any involvement in the assassination attempt, claiming instead that they were sports nutritionists who had traveled to Salisbury to see the city’s famous cathedral.
However, the assassination attempt sparked one of the biggest waves of direct deportations between the West and Russia since the end of the Cold War.
The US charge d’affaires in Prague, Jennifer Bachus, said the United States was on the side of the Czech Republic, which she called “a steadfast ally”.
“We appreciate their meaningful action to impose costs on Russia for its dangerous actions on Czech soil,” she said.