Czech Republic throws out dozens of Russian diplomats | Free press

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Prague / Moscow (dpa) – After an ultimatum to Russia has passed, the Czech Republic has de facto decided to expel up to 70 Russian diplomats and embassy personnel.

The new Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek gave the Kremlin until the end of May to reduce the size of its representation in Prague to the level of the Czech Embassy in Moscow. The Czech Republic currently has only 24 embassy personnel in Moscow, including five diplomats. However, Russia has 94 embassy officials in Prague, including 27 diplomats.

Prague had unsuccessfully asked the Kremlin to return all Czech diplomats expelled a few days ago to the Moscow embassy. The performance hardly works. “The Czech Republic is a confident country and it behaves that way,” says Kulhanek. The 36-year-old has only been the main diplomat of NATO and EU member states since Wednesday.

The Moscow Ministry of Foreign Affairs immediately announced countermeasures. In a statement, Moscow demanded that Prague further reduce the embassy’s staff. But a number was not given. “Prague is on the path to destroy relationships, the answer will not be long in coming,” said Interfax spokeswoman Maria Sakharov.

The political conflict started on Saturday with serious allegations from the Czech Republic. Prague accuses Russian secret services of being responsible for explosions in an ammunition dump in Vrbetice in the east of the country in 2014. Two people died in the process. Prime Minister Andrej Babis called it an “unprecedented terrorist attack”.

Czech police are looking for two Russians who are also wanted in connection with the nerve gas attack in Salisbury in March 2018. In the case in England, an innocent woman died from contact with the poison. According to a report from the magazine “Respekt”, it would be a larger operation in Vrbetice involving at least four other agents. Among other things, a senior Russian intelligence officer flew to Vienna at the time.

A Kremlin spokesman recently spoke of absurd and completely unfounded allegations. Both countries dismissed each other’s embassy personnel over the weekend – 18 Russians in Prague and 20 Czechs in Moscow. Observers speak of the worst conflict between the two states in decades.

In solidarity with the Czech Republic, neighboring Slovakia has expelled three Russian diplomats from the country. According to the TASR agency, you have seven days to leave the country, Prime Minister Eduard Heger said. The Interfax agency reported, citing diplomatic sources, that Russia reserves the right to respond. Slovakia’s move is unfounded.

The Czech Republic is assured of support from NATO partners in the dispute with Russia. “The Allies express deep concern at the destabilizing measures Russia continues to implement in the Euro-Atlantic area (…),” said a statement by NATO countries published in Brussels. We stand on the side of the Czech Republic in full solidarity.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) offered his new Czech counterpart Jakub Kulhanek in a phone call on Thursday to make sure the embassy could work. “The Czech and German embassies in Moscow are already in direct contact with this,” said Foreign Affairs. Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) also pledged solidarity with the Czech Republic in a telephone conversation with Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis.