Czech Republic expels 18 Russian envoys, accuse Moscow over ammunition depot blast

PRAGUE – The Czech Republic said on Sunday that it had informed NATO and European Union allies of Russia’s suspected involvement in a 2014 munitions dump explosion and that the matter would be dealt with at a European Union. Foreign ministers meeting on Monday.

The Central European country on Saturday expelled 18 Russian embassy workers over the problem and said the investigation linked Russian intelligence to the explosion that killed two people.

Russian news agency Interfax on Saturday quoted Vladimir Dzhabarov, the first deputy chairman of the House of Lords Committee on International Affairs, as saying that Prague’s claims are absurd and that Russia’s response should be proportionate.

Another high-profile official, Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the State Duma committee on international affairs, said on Saturday the reasons for the Czech move “do not stand up to criticism”, adding that the Czech Republic is “following the Russophobic course of the United States” States ”by expelling Russian diplomats, the Russian state news agency Tass reported.

The evictions and allegations come at a time of increasing Russian-Western tensions and have sparked the largest dispute between the Czechs and Russia since the end of communist rule in 1989, when Prague was under Moscow’s rule for decades.

On Sunday, the E.U. the statements of the incumbent Czech Foreign Minister Jan Hamacek on Twitter that the dispute during a previously planned E.U. Video conference of the Foreign Ministers on Monday.

Separately, Czech police said they were looking for two men in connection with serious criminal activity who were carrying Russian passports on behalf of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, and that the men had been in the country in the days leading up to the 2014 explosion.

These were the aliases used by two Russian Military Intelligence (GRU) officers who charged British prosecutors with attempted poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with nerve agent Novichok in the English city of Salisbury in 2018.

Moscow has denied involvement in this incident.

The United States and Britain said they were in full solidarity with the Czech Republic in the dispute with Russia.

A statement of the US Embassy in Prague said on Saturday that Washington “stands with its staunch ally, the Czech Republic. We appreciate your significant efforts to get Russia to pay for its dangerous actions on Czech soil.”

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Meanwhile, the British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on twitter: “The UK fully stands for our Czech allies who have demonstrated the efforts the GRU will make in its attempts to conduct dangerous and malicious operations – and exhibited a worrying pattern of behavior following the Salisbury attack.”

The Kremlin’s relations with many NATO members, most of whom are based in the European Union, as well as the United States are more strained than at any time since the Cold War.

The West has sounded the alarm over a major Russian military build-up on Russia’s western borders and in Crimea, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014 after increased fighting in eastern Ukraine between Russian-backed separatists and government forces.

The United States this week imposed sanctions on Russia for meddling in last year’s US election, cyber hacking, bullying in Ukraine and other alleged malicious acts, prompting Moscow to retaliate.

Last month, US President Joe Biden said he thought his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin was a “murderer” and Moscow called its ambassador in Washington back for consultations.

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