Czech Republic urges Russia against diplomat expulsion
Czech foreign minister says Russia has time to change its decision by noon Thursday
The Czech Republic has called Russia to reverse its decision to expel 20 of its diplomats, giving it time until Thursday noon before reciprocating.
After meeting with Russia's ambassador to Prague, Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek told reporters that if Moscow stayed course, Prague would reduce the number of Russian diplomats serving in Prague to the same number as Czech diplomatic officials in Moscow.
Following his meeting with Alexander Zmejevszkij, Kulhanek said that as a sovereign country, Prague had "acted decisively and made decisions," noting that Czech-Russian relations were going through an extraordinary period.
"We've uncovered a network of the Russian secret service. Rosatom [Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation] will not participate in the expansion of the Dukovany nuclear power plant," he said.
According to Czech media reports, five diplomats currently serve at the country's embassy in Moscow.
EU supports Czech Republic
Releasing a written statement on the issue, the EU denounced the "illegal activities" that it said Czech authorities uncovered on a deadly 2014 blast that Prague blames Russia.
"The European Union strongly condemns the illegal activities on the territory of the Czech Republic that caused the explosions at the Vrbetice ammunition depot in 2014. It resulted in the deaths of two Czech citizens, a serious threat to civilian population and immense material damage.
"The EU takes extremely seriously the conclusions by the Czech authorities, based on extensive investigations, that officers of the Russian military intelligence GRU [Main Intelligence Directorate] perpetrated these actions," said the union.
The bloc added that it was "deeply concerned by any gross violation of international law and sovereignty of the Czech Republic, as well as any such action targeting any other EU Member State. Russia must desist from activities that threaten security and stability in Europe and run counter to Russia's international obligations."
"The European Union expresses full solidarity with the Czech Republic, supports the actions taken by its authorities so far and stands ready to support its further efforts to bring those responsible to justice," said the EU.
Condemning the "disproportionate reaction and subsequent threats" by Russia against the Czech Republic, the EU said "disruptive actions" by Russian intelligence agencies against the interests and security of the EU and its member states would continue to be met with the "staunchest resolve, including at the level of the European Union, as appropriate."
On Saturday this week, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis announced that 18 Russian diplomats had been declared persona non grata over their alleged links to huge explosions in 2014 at military warehouses in the town of Vrbetice which left two people dead.
The diplomats were asked to leave the country within 48 hours.
Russia protested the decision, terming it "unfounded." It recalled that earlier, Czech authorities had investigated the case and found the companies that owned the warehouses guilty.
Britain has said it "stands in full support" of its Czech allies.
A government statement said the two officers of Russia's GRU, who were charged with the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury in 2018, were also behind the explosions in Vrbetice.
British intelligence had accused Russian nationals Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov and charged them for the Novichok attack in Salisbury.
Upon the Czech Republic's deportation decision, Russia also announced a day later, Sunday, that it was expelling 20 Czech diplomats in response to a similar move by Prague.
A statement published on the Russian Foreign Ministry's official website said Czech Ambassador Vitezslav Pivonka was notified that the diplomats had been declared persona non-grata and must leave the country by the end of Monday.
The ministry also demanded that the number of locally hired staffers at the Czech Embassy be reduced to the same level as that of the Russian Embassy in Prague.