EU to discuss alleged Russian link to 2014 blast in Czech Republic

The national flag flutters on top of the Russian embassy in Prague. Reuters

The Czech Republic said on Sunday it had informed NATO and European Union allies about suspected Russian involvement in a 2014 ammunition depot explosion and the matter would be addressed at an EU foreign ministers’ meeting on Monday.

The central European country expelled 18 Russian embassy staff on Saturday over the issue and said investigations had linked Russian intelligence to the explosion, which killed two people.

Responding to the expulsions, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Russian media on Saturday: “Prague is well aware of what follows these types of games.”

Russia’s Interfax news agency cited Vladimir Dzhabarov, first deputy head of the Russian upper house’s international affairs committee, as saying Prague’s assertions were absurd and Russia’s response should be proportionate.

The expulsions and allegations by the Czechs have triggered its biggest dispute with Russia since the 1989 end of Communist rule, when Prague was under Moscow’s domination for decades.

The incident comes amid Western concern over a huge Russian military build-up on Russia’s Western borders and in Crimea, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014, following an increase in fighting between Russian-backed separatists and government forces in eastern Ukraine.

On Sunday, the EU’s executive commission confirmed remarks by acting Czech Foreign Minister Jan Hamacek on Twitter that the dispute with Russia would be addressed during a previously scheduled EU foreign ministers’ video conference on Monday.

Separately, Czech police said they were searching for two men in connection with serious criminal activity who were carrying Russian passports in the names of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, and that the men were in the country in the days leading up to the 2014 explosion.

Those were the aliases used by two Russian military intelligence (GRU) officers who British prosecutors charged with the attempted poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with the nerve agent Novichok in the English city of Salisbury in 2018. Moscow denied involvement in that incident.

The United States and Britain said they stood in solidarity with the Czech Republic in the dispute with Russia.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Twitter the Czechs “have exposed the lengths that the GRU will go to in their attempts to conduct dangerous and malign operations,” referring to Russia’s military intelligence agency.

The U.S. Embassy in Prague said in a statement on Saturday that Washington appreciated the Czech Republic’s “significant action to impose costs on Russia for its dangerous actions on Czech soil”.

The United States imposed sanctions against Russia on Thursday for interfering in last year’s U.S. election, cyber hacking, bullying Ukraine and other alleged malign actions, prompting Moscow to retaliate.

Last month U.S. President Joe Biden said he thought his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin was a “killer” and Moscow recalled its ambassador to Washington for consultations.


The incident surfaced unexpectedly at a time that is sensitive for Czech-Russia relations.

The Czech government is planning to open a tender worth billions of euros to build a new nuclear power station, and security services have demanded that Russia be excluded from bids as a security risk.

President Milos Zeman and other senior officials have been arguing for keeping Russia in. The industry minister said on Saturday the incident could affect the process.

The head of the country’s upper house of parliament, Milos Vystrcil, said the incident would amount to state terrorism.

“If confirmed, we have to consider it as a very serious act of aggression and hostility, which can be labelled as an act of state terrorism,” Vystrcil, member of the centre-right opposition, told a news conference on Sunday.


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