Russia expels 20 Czech diplomats over deadly depot explosion
ITV News reporter Mark McQuillan examines the two attacks and the men suspected of being behind them
Two Russian men suspected of the realization of the Salisbury poisonings are linked to an explosion in 2014 at a weapons depot in the Czech Republic.
The Czech Police Organized Crime Unit is tracking down two foreign citizens identified as Alexander Petrov, 41, and Ruslan Boshirov, 43. Authorities said the two used Russian passports while in the Czech Republic.
The duo were believed to be behind the Salisbury Novichok poisoning of a former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in 2018.
Police said Petrov and Boshirow visited the country, including the Zlin region where the explosion took place, between October 11 and October 16, 2014.
The Czech Republic said it was expelling 18 Russian diplomats it had identified as spies in the case.
In response, Russia ordered 20 Czech diplomats to leave the country by the end of Monday.
The two men linked to the Salisbury explosion and poisoning were also using passports issued by Moldova under the name Nicolai Popa and another issued by Tajikistan for Ruslan Tabarov.
They said the two also visited the capital Prague and another region in the northeast of the Czech Republic.
The 2014 explosion rocked a depot in Vrbetice, 205 miles southeast of Prague, killing two employees of a private company that leased the site to a state military organization.
Another explosion of 13 tons of ammunition occurred in the depot on December 3 of the same year.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said decision to expel Russian diplomats was based on “unequivocal evidence” provided by Czech intelligence and security services that point to the involvement of Russian military agents in the blast mass in an eastern town that killed “two innocent people”. fathers.
Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said: “The UK fully supports our Czech allies, who have laid out how far the Russian intelligence services will go in their attempts to conduct dangerous and malicious operations in Europe.
“This shows a pattern of behavior from Moscow, following the Novichok attack in Salisbury. My sympathies go out to the families of the victims in Vrbetice.
“We are more determined and determined than ever to bring those responsible for the Salisbury attack to justice, and we commend the Czech authorities for doing the same. Russia must desist from these actions, which violate most basic international standards.”
Petrov and Boshirov were identified as officers of the Russian Military Intelligence Service, also known as the GRU, by former Prime Minister Theresa May shortly after the Salisbury poisonings.They were indicted in absentia in 2018 for conspiring to murder former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, with the Soviet nerve agent Novichok.
Dawn Sturgess died three months after the Skripals were poisoned after she and her partner Charlie Rowley fell ill after coming into contact with Novichok. Mr. Rowley survived.
Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, the first officer to enter the Skripal house, also fell seriously ill and announced he left the force in October after serving for 18 years.
The Czech announcement came two days after the United States announced 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, known for his pro-Russian views, had been briefed on developments and had “expressed absolute 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”.
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,” Zakharova told RIA Novosti news agency.