Russia expels seven EU diplomats in Czech spying row
Brussels (Brussels Morning) Moscow announced on Wednesday that it will expel seven EU diplomats in the latest tit-for-tat move following the fallout from Russia’s diplomatic row with the Czech Republic over alleged Russian sabotage in that country, Deutsche Welle reported.
The Kremlin has announced that the seven expelled diplomats from Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, have one week to leave the country. All are from one or other of the four countries that expelled seven Russian diplomats in a show of solidarity with the Czech Republic last week.
The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Wednesday, condemning the Slovak expulsion of Russian embassy staff as “false solidarity” with Prague, stating that Bratislava’s actions “damage the traditionally friendly Russian-Slovak relations and constructive bilateral cooperation.”.
The other three affected countries, former Soviet republics Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, were cited in a separate statement, accused of continuing “to conduct an openly hostile course” towards Russia, which in this instance manifests as “hiding behind pseudo-solidarity with the indiscriminate actions of the Czech Republic towards Russia”.
The row between Prague and Moscow began earlier this month, when the Czech Republic expelled 18 Russian diplomats over suspicions that Russian intelligence operatives were involved in an ammunition depot explosion in 2014 that killed two people.
Czech intelligence claims it has identified the likely perpetrators as the same two operatives suspected in the attempted murder of Russian defector Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, UK. The two men, identified by British intelligence as Alexander Mishkin and Anatoly Chepigas, were identified by Czech agencies as having been in the Czech Republic from 11 to 16 October 2014, the exact time of the Vrbetice explosions.
Following the expulsion of its diplomats from Prague, Moscow responded by expelling 20 Czech diplomats from Russia. Last week, the row escalated further as Prague announced plans to expel 63 Russian diplomats by the end of May, the intention being to reduce their numbers in line with the Czech embassy in Moscow.