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22 Apr, 2021 18:59

Czech Republic set to order all but 5 of Russia’s diplomats out of country in escalating tit-for-tat over spying & sabotage claims

Czech Republic set to order all but 5 of Russia’s diplomats out of country in escalating tit-for-tat over spying & sabotage claims

The Czech Republic has warned that as many as 22 Russian envoys and 48 support staff could soon be sent home in the wake of a growing row over allegations Moscow’s intelligence agencies blew up an ammunition depot in the country.

The nation’s new foreign minister, Jakub Kulganek, appointed only one day before, told reporters on Thursday that Prague would order the expulsions if Russia did not reverse its own ban on 20 Czech diplomats. Moscow made the move in retaliation to an earlier decision by Kulganek’s predecessor to bar 18 Russian officials from the Czech Republic. The Central European nation said that the response was “stronger than expected” and has since asked Western states to follow suit and send diplomats home.

“Yesterday,” the minister revealed, “I told the ambassador that if our diplomats are not returned to Moscow, we will reduce the composition of the Russian Embassy in Prague to the same level. Since the Russian side has not responded, we decided to begin implementing this decision.”

Czech authorities say that 27 diplomats and 67 technicians work at the Russian embassy in Prague, while only five diplomats and 19 technicians work at the Czech embassy in Moscow. As a result, nearly two dozen envoys and 48 support staff could face expulsion.

Also on rt.com Czech officials say warehouse explosion blamed on Russians happened by accident – but still believe Moscow's spooks were involved

However, Kulganek added that while steps were being taken to enforce the ruling, there was still a chance to prevent the further deterioration of diplomatic ties. “The Russian side has time for the departure of diplomats until the end of May,” he added.

On the same day, Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, told journalists that Prague had summoned the Russian ambassador. “While they are on maneuvers,” she added, “the most important thing is that they do not take things too far.”

Last week, Czech officials alleged that an explosion at an ammunition depot in 2014 was the fault of Russian operatives, as opposed to an accident as first believed. They claim that it destroyed ammunition believed to be destined for soldiers in Ukraine.

However, since then, the country’s prime minister has declared that the situation “was not an act of state terrorism, which means that Russia did not attack the Czech Republic,” but that it had still been carried out by Moscow’s intelligence agencies and was “absolutely unacceptable.”

Also on rt.com Czech PM says Russia did NOT attack country, alleged blowing up of munition depot was ‘not act of state terrorism’

But, in another twist in the tale, on Thursday, the country’s Senate declared the events an act of state terrorism, and lawmakers argued for a renunciation of the Czech-Russian agreement on friendship and cooperation.

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