Czech government expels 18 Russian diplomats over 2014 blast

James Marshall
April 18, 2021

The photographs supplied by Czech police match those of two men identified by United Kingdom police as suspects in the 2018 poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, England.

Relations between Russia and the Czech Republic soured a year ago, after the Czech magazine Respekt reported in April that a Russian diplomat had brought ricin, a deadly poison, into the country allegedly to kill Czech politicians involved in the dismantling of a statue to a Soviet war hero in Prague.

The explosion took place on October 16, 2014, in a depot in the town of Vrbetice that had 50 metric tons of ammunition stored, which claimed the two victims.

Czech police issued photos of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, who they say were in the country at the time of the blast, which killed two people.

The Czech government said Saturday it would expel 18 Russian diplomats identified by local intelligence as secret agents of the Russian SVR and GRU services that are suspected of involvement in a 2014 explosion.

The Czech organised crime squad (NCOZ) said it was looking for two men using Russian passports in relation to the explosions. "October 2014" when the Vrbetice blast occurred, the NCOZ said, adding that the two men also used Tajik and Moldovan identities.

"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.

He added he had received the information on Friday, without explaining why it had taken so long.

Russian politician Vladimir Dzhabarov said the Czech Republic's claims were absurd and that the Russian reaction to the expulsion of its diplomats should be proportionate, the Interfax news agency reported.

Interior Minister Jan Hamacek, who is also serving as the country's foreign minister, said the 18 Russian embassy staffers were clearly identified as military spies on behalf of the Kremlin and had 48 hours to leave the country.

A second explosion at a nearby depot in December 2014 killed none but resulted in further evacuations.

'We are in a situation similar to that in Britain following the attempted poisoning in Salisbury in 2018, ' he said, referring to the case of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal who survived a nerve agent poisoning in Britain.

Hamacek said he had summoned Russian ambassador Alexander Zmeyevsky on Saturday evening to tell him about the decision.

The US said it was expelling 10 diplomats from the Russian Embassy in Washington DC on Thursday in response to a cyber-attack as well as other Russian activities.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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