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Iran Press TV

Czech Republic expels 18 Russian embassy staff, linking 'intel officers' to 2014 depot blast

Iran Press TV

Sunday, 18 April 2021 5:30 AM

The Czech Republic has announced the expulsion of 18 Russian embassy staff, alleging that Russian intelligence services were involved in an ammunition depot blast in 2014.

The Czech government said on Saturday it will expel the Russian diplomats identified by local intelligence as secret agents of the Russian SVR and GRU services that were suspected of involvement in arms depot explosions in the Czech Republic seven years ago.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Foreign Minister Jan Hamacek said in a joint press conference that the agents working for the Russian intelligence services were suspectedly involved in explosions at an ammunition warehouse in 2014 which left two people dead.

"Based on clear evidence obtained during the investigation conducted by our security services, I can say 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 in 2014," Babis noted.

Several explosions shook the Vrbetice ammunition depot, 330km southeast of Prague, on October 16, 2014. They killed two employees of a private company that was renting the depot from a state military organization.

Hamacek said the expelled Russian embassy staff were ordered to leave the country within 48 hours.

"As foreign minister of the Czech Republic, I made the decision to expel all personnel at the Russian embassy in Prague identified by our secret services as officers of Russia's secret services, SVR and GRU. Within 48 hours, 18 staff of the Russian embassy must leave the Czech Republic," Hamacek, who is the interior minister and also an interim foreign minister after his predecessor was sacked earlier this week, said.

Hamacek said he had summoned Russian ambassador Alexander Zmeyevsky on Saturday evening to tell him about the decision, adding that the findings about the 2014 incident would "fundamentally damage Czech-Russian relations."

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said her country would answer the Czech move.

"Prague is well aware of what will follow such tricks," Zakharova was quoted by the RIA Novosti news agency.

In related news on Thursday, the Czech Republic's neighbor Poland said it had also expelled three Russian diplomats for "carrying out activities to the detriment" of Poland.

Warsaw also expressed solidarity with the US amid a diplomatic standoff between Moscow and Washington which began after US President Joe Biden ordered 10 Russian diplomats out of the country over what Washington alleged were "malign" actions.

The United States on Thursday imposed a broad array of sanctions on Russia for its alleged interference in the 2020 US election, cyber-hacking and "bullying" Ukraine, among other things.

The measures blacklisted Russian companies, expelled Russian diplomats and placed limits on the Russian sovereign debt market.

The Biden administration warned that more penalties could come, although Washington did not want to escalate matters between the two countries.

Russia said the US move had already dangerously escalated matters between the two countries. Moscow also said it would expel 10 US diplomats.

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