Russia expels 20 Czech diplomats
Published: 11:00 AM, 19 April 2021
Russia on Sunday announced that 20 diplomats from the Czech Republic will be expelled from the country.
Earlier, the Czech Republic expelled 18 Russian diplomats on Saturday.
Czech local intelligence agents claim the diplomats are Russian intelligence operatives. They are suspected of involvement in an explosion at an arms depot in 2014.
European Union foreign ministers are set to discuss the claims about the blast during a meeting on Monday.
Moscow has given the Czech diplomats a day to leave while the Czech Republic has given the Russians 72 hours.
The Russian Foreign Ministry called the Czech decision "unprecedented" and a "hostile act".
"In their desire to please the United States against the background of recent US sanctions against Russia, Czech authorities in this respect even outdid their masters from across the pond," said a foreign ministry statement.
Meanwhile, Czech authorities say the diplomats are believed to be intelligence operatives, claims the Russians have classed as unfounded and absurd.
The explosion tore apart an ammunitions storage depot in a forest at Vrbětice in the Czech Republic on October 16, 2014.
Windows in nearby buildings were blown out and local schools were evacuated as emergency vehicles rushed to the scene. The remains of two men - aged 56 and 69 - who worked at the site were found more than a month later.
The blast was assumed to have been an accident.
But painstaking detective work by Czech authorities has pointed the finger at Moscow - and Unit 29155 of Russia's GRU intelligence agency.
Czech Police have identified two suspects in connection with the blast - Alexander Mishkin and Anatoly Chepigov - who are also accused of involvement in the Salisbury poisonings in 2018.
Sergei Skripal, a former double Russian agent, and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in the English town, while a local woman, Dawn Sturgess, was killed months later by Novichok from a discarded perfume bottle.
Investigative site Bellingcat identified the Salisbury suspects Ruslan Boshirov as Anatoly Chepiga, and Alexander Petrov as Alexander Mishkin, both GRU officers. - BBC