Czechs Blame Russia for 2014 Blast, Expel Embassy Staff

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The Czech government alleged Russia was involved during a deadly blast at a munitions site in 2014 and said it’s expelling 18 embassy staffers, signaling that the country is joining growing international pressure to rein in President Putin.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis’s unexpected announcement coincides concernedly within the U.S. and Europe about Russia’s military buildup on the border with Ukraine and hacking alleged by the U.S. secretary of state Jan Hamacek likened the explosion, which killed two people at a personal munitions warehouse, to the 2018 poisoning of former Russian agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, England.

“I’m very saddened that the Czech-Russian relations are getting to suffer such significant damage, but the Czech Republic must respond,” Hamacek said Saturday. The Czech government has notified the ECU Union and therefore the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and is seeking their support, he said.

The latest rift signals that relations between the Czech Republic, a member of NATO and therefore the EU, and Russia could also be headed toward rock bottom point since the top of communist rule. this might have business consequences too: Hamacek and Industry and Trade Minister Karel Havlicek said on Sunday Russia probably won’t be allowed to bid for a $7 billion nuclear-energy project as a result of the incident.

Czech authorities suspect Russia’s GRU intelligence helped orchestrate the 2014 blast at Vrbetice, Babis said at an appointment. Hamacek said the Russian embassy staff whom he described as spies must leave the country within 48 hours.

An employee who answered the switchboard at the Russian Embassy in Prague outside business hours declined to comment.

Russian Passports

Czech police said Saturday they’re checking out two men who visited the country using Russian passports with an equivalent name that U.K. police have said they believe to be aliases of GRU agents who poisoned Skripal four years later.

The men used the identities of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, also as passports with other names, once they traveled within the Czech Republic for a few weeks in October 2014. they’re wanted in reference to “serious criminal activity,” consistent with a police statement that didn’t elaborate.

The latest accusations risk escalating tension between Prague and Moscow to the very best level since the previous Soviet satellite overthrew communist rule quite three decades ago. Relations have since included diplomatic clashes, like when the Czechs expelled two Russian diplomats last year for what Prague said was a fabrication of data on an alleged poisoning plot against municipal officials.

President Joe Biden’s administration in the week imposed further sanctions on Russia, including limits on buying newly issued sovereign debt. On Wednesday, the Czech government offered to host an so far unscheduled Biden-Putin summit.

Russia’s alleged role within the explosion marks “an absolutely unprecedented violation of the sovereignty and security of the Czech Republic,” said Jana Cernochova, head of the defense committee of the lower chamber of parliament. “This can’t be tolerated.”