The Czech Republic has expelled two Russian diplomats after a Russian embassy employee spread false information about a planned poison attack on three Czech politicians.
The expulsion was announced on Friday by Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who described the move as “appropriate and adequate”.
“One embassy employee sent deliberately made-up information about a planned attack on Czech politicians to BIS,” he said, referring to the Czech intelligence service.
In April, the Respekt newspaper cited security sources as saying that a Russian national using a diplomatic passport had arrived in Prague carrying ricin, a toxic poison that can be used as a biological weapon.
Around the same time, three Czech politicians who had each made political gestures that angered Russia were placed under police protection.
The case soured already shaky relations between Prague and the Kremlin, with Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova saying in April that the Respekt report was “misinformation” and “sick fantasies”.
The Russian embassy in Prague dismissed the expulsion on its Facebook page as “provocation”.
“Based on ungrounded accusations in the media from the beginning, this hostile step shows Prague is not interested in normalising Russian-Czech relations, which have recently degraded, for which we cannot be blamed,” the embassy said.
Russia will respond in kind to the expulsion, the RIA news agency cited Vladimir Dzhabarov, a senior Russian lawmaker, as saying later on Friday.
One of the three politicians named in the hoax, Ondrej Kolar, had spearheaded the April removal of a Cold War-era statue dedicated to Soviet general Ivan Konev – a hero to many Russians but a symbol of Soviet-era oppression to many Czechs.
Another of those targeted, Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib, supported renaming the Prague square where the Russian embassy is located after Boris Nemtsov, a Russian opposition leader murdered in 2015.
And the district run by Pavel Novotny, the third politician mentioned in the hoax, installed a memorial to the so-called Vlasov Army – Red Army defectors who helped to liberate Prague in May 1945.
Babis cited intelligence information as showing the hoax was the result of infighting at the Russian embassy.
“Besides burdening our security forces, [the employee] caused further complications in Czech-Russian relations and harmed the good reputation of the Russian Federation in the Czech Republic,” said the billionaire populist prime minister.
Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek said Russia’s approach had left his country with no option but to expel the diplomats “even though we’re aware of the expected reciprocal steps”.