Czechia expels Russian diplomats over 2014 ammunition depot blast

Eighteen Russian diplomats identified as spies given 48 hours to leave the country, officials say.

A national flag of Russia flies on the Russian embassy in Prague
The Russian diplomats have been given 48 hours to leave the country [File: David W Cerny/Reuters]

The Czech Republic has announced that it is expelling 18 Russian diplomats identified as spies over a huge ammunition depot explosion in 2014.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Saturday the Czech intelligence agencies had provided evidence about the involvement of Russian military agents in the massive explosion that killed two people. He said the Czech Republic, as a sovereign state, had to react to those findings.

“There is well-grounded suspicion about the involvement of officers of the Russian intelligence service GRU, unit 29155, in the explosion of ammunitions depot in the Vrbetice area,” Babis said.

Interior Minister Jan Hamacek, who is also serving as the foreign minister, said the Russian embassy staffers were clearly identified as Russian military spies.

“Eighteen employees of the Russian embassy must leave our republic within 48 hours,” Hamacek told reporters.

In Russia, the Interfax news agency cited Vladimir Dzhabarov, first deputy head of the upper house’s international affairs committee, as saying Prague’s claims that Russian intelligence officers were involved in the explosion were absurd.

Moscow’s response to the expulsion of 18 diplomats should be proportionate, Dzhabarov said on Saturday.

Several explosions shook the Vrbetice ammunition depot, 330km (205 miles) southeast of the capital, Prague, on October 16, 2014.

The explosions killed employees of a private company that was renting the depot from a state military organisation.

Separately on Saturday, Czech police said they were searching for two men carrying various passports, including Russian ones in the names of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov.

Those names were the aliases used by two Russian military intelligence officers who British prosecutors charged with the attempted murder on British soil of Russian spy Sergei Skripal. They and Moscow both denied involvement.

Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were poisoned with a nerve agent in the English city of Salisbury in March 2018. The attack prompted the biggest wave of diplomatic expulsions between Moscow and the West since the Cold War.

Source: News Agencies