Russia expels 20 Czech diplomats in row over fatal depot explosion

Czech Ambassador Vitezslav Pivonka was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry on Sunday evening and told that the 20 diplomats must leave by the end of Monday
Russia expels 20 Czech diplomats in row over fatal depot explosion

Riot police guard the area as protesters gather in front of the Russian Embassy in Prague. Picture: Petr David Josek/AP

Russia has ordered 20 Czech diplomats to leave the country in response to the Czech government’s expulsion of 18 Russian diplomats identified as spies for an intelligence agency involved in a 2014 ammunition depot explosion.

Czech Ambassador Vitezslav Pivonka was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry on Sunday evening and told that the 20 diplomats must leave by the end of Monday.

Earlier, a ministry statement called the expulsion of the Russians a “hostile step… In an effort to please the United States against the backdrop of recent American sanctions against Russia, the Czech authorities have even surpassed their overseas masters in this regard.”

A woman blows a whistle in front of the Russian Embassy in Prague (Petr David Josek/AP)

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Saturday that the expulsions were based on “unequivocal evidence” provided by the Czech intelligence and security services that points to the involvement of Russian military agents in the massive 2014 explosion in an eastern town that killed two people.

Interior minister Jan Hamacek, who is also serving as the country’s foreign minister, said the 18 Russian Embassy staffers were clearly identified as spies from the GRU and SVR, Russia’s military and foreign intelligence services.

At the same time, the Czech police organised crime unit on Saturday published photos of two foreign citizens who visited the country, including where the depot was located, between October 11 and October 16 in 2014 and asked the public for any information about them.

The two men travelled to Prague using Russian passports.

Czech police said the names and photos matched two Russians whom British authorities charged in absentia in 2018 with trying with trying to kill former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter with the Soviet nerve agent Novichok, in Salisbury.

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