Moscow gave the diplomats just over 24 hours to leave the country.
Prague had on Saturday ordered out 18 Russian diplomats it said were spies from a Russian military intelligence agency. Czech prime minister Andrej Babis said that that the expulsions were based on “unequivocal evidence” that points to the involvement of Russian military agents in the 2014 explosion in Vrbetice, according to AP.
The explosion on 16 October, 2014 in a depot in the town of Vrbetice had claimed two victims.
Czech interior and acting foreign minister Jan Hamacek said that the 18 Russians were identified as spies from Russian intelligence services known as GRU and SVR. He said the country’s allies in NATO and the European Union have been informed of the decision and Czech has asked for their support.
Czech police said two men identified as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov had travelled to the Czech Republic just days before the depot blast. These were the aliases used by two Russian military intelligence officers suspected of carrying out the 2018 poisoning of Sergei Skripal in the UK.
Mr Hamacek said that while police knew about the two people from the beginning, they only found out when the Salisbury attack happened that “they are members of the GRU, that Unit 29155,” according to Reuters.
British foreign secretary Dominic Raab said the UK stands in support of its Czech allies who “have exposed the lengths that the GRU will go to in their attempts to conduct dangerous and malign operations – and highlights a disturbing pattern of behaviour following the attack in Salisbury.”
Russia had vowed an answer to the Czech move and called the accusations “absurd”. It had also accused the government of trying to please the United States.
“In an effort to please the USA. following recent American sanctions against Russia, the Czech government in this instance even exceeded its overseas masters,” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement, according to The New York Times.
The Biden administration had last week announced sanctions against Russian individuals and entities, and expelled 10 diplomats following allegations of election interference and hacking.
State Department spokesman Ned Price tweeted: “The US stands with the Czech Republic in its firm response against Russia’s subversive actions on Czech soil. We must act firmly in response to Russian actions that compromise the territorial integrity, energy security, or critical infrastructure of our allies and partners.”
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