Czechs deport 18 Russians after deposit explosion in 2014
PRAGUE (AP) – The Czech Republic announced on Saturday that it was expelling 18 Russian diplomats it identified as spies in a case related to a huge explosion at an ammunition depot in 2014.
Prime Minister Andrej Babis said the decision was based on “unequivocal evidence” provided by the Czech intelligence and security services which indicates the involvement of Russian military agents in the massive explosion in a city in the Is who killed “two innocent fathers”.
“The Czech Republic is a sovereign state and must respond adequately to these unprecedented discoveries,” Babis said.
Home Secretary Jan Hamacek, who is also the country’s foreign minister, said all 18 Russian Embassy staff were clearly identified as Russian intelligence spies known as GRU and SVR and were ordered to leave the country within 48 hours.
The explosion, which took place on October 16, 2014 at a depot in the town of Vrbetice where 50 tonnes of ammunition was stored, killed two people. Another explosion of 13 tons of ammunition occurred in the depot on December 3 of the same year.
Hundreds of people had to be evacuated from neighboring villages after the explosions.
“The United States stands alongside its steadfast ally, the Czech Republic,” said Jennifer Bachus, charge d’affaires at the US Embassy in Prague. “We appreciate their meaningful action to impose costs on Russia for its dangerous actions on Czech soil.”
The Czech announcement came two days after the United States said it was expelling 10 Russian diplomats and imposing sanctions on dozens of people and businesses, holding the Kremlin responsible for interference in the election presidential election last year and federal agency hacking.
Babis said President Milos Zeman, who is known for his pro-Russian views, has been briefed on developments and has “expressed his full support for us.”
He said the investigation into the case was not yet complete, but thanked the country’s security forces for their “professional work.”
The announcement sent shockwaves across the country, with politicians from government and opposition parties united in condemning the Russian move.
“It is an act of state terrorism,” said Petr Fiala, leader of the opposition Civic Democratic Party.
Jiri Sedivy, former chief of staff of the Czech army, said the Czechs must respond “resolutely” to Russian action.
“It was an obvious military attack on our sovereign territory,” Sedivy told Czech public television.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said her country would respond to the Czech decision.
“Prague is well aware of what will follow such tricks,” said Zakharova, quoted by the RIA Novosti news agency.
Hamacek said the deal would seriously damage Czech-Russian relations. He said the country’s allies in NATO and the European Union have been briefed on the results and “we have asked for their support.”
“We are in a similar situation to Britain in the Salisbury poisoning attempt in 2018,” Hamacek said, without giving further details.
Britain has expelled dozens of Russian diplomats after Russian agents used a Soviet-era nerve agent to poison a former Russian spy and his daughter who lived in the English town of Salisbury.
At the same time, the Czech Police Organized Crime Unit on Saturday released photos of two foreign citizens who visited the country, including the Zlin region where Vrbetice is located, between October 11-16, 2014 and asked the public for information. about them.
Both used Russian passports and were identified as Alexander Petrov, 41, and Ruslan Boshirov, 43. Petrov and Boshirov were indicted in absentia by Britain in 2018 for attempting to kill former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, with the Soviet nerve agent Novichok.
Czech police said the two men were also using passports issued by Moldova for Nicolai Popa and a passport issued by Tajikistan for Ruslan Tabarov.
They said the two men also visited the capital of Prague and another region in the northeast of the Czech Republic.