Russia expels 20 Czech diplomats

Photo: EPA The Vrbenice blast.

Russia announced that 20 diplomats from the Czech Republic will be expelled from the country as an answer to the expulsion of 18 Russian diplomats on Saturday, news wires reported. Moscow has given the Czech diplomats a day to leave while Prague has given the Russians 72 hours. EU foreign ministers are set to discuss the matter during a meeting today.

According to Czech local intelligence agents, the diplomats are Russian intelligence operatives. They are suspected of involvement in an explosion, which has killed two people. The explosion tore apart an ammunitions storage depot in a forest at Vrbětice in the Czech Republic on 16 October 2014.

Russia's foreign ministry called the Czech decision "unprecedented" and a "hostile act". "In their desire to please the US against the background of recent US sanctions against Russia, Czech authorities in this respect even outdid their masters from across the pond," said a foreign ministry statement.

The blast was assumed then to have been an accident. But painstaking detective work by Czech authorities has pointed the finger at Moscow - and Unit 29155 of Russia's GRU intelligence agency. Czech Police have identified two suspects in connection with the blast - Alexander Mishkin and Anatoly Chepigov - who are also accused of involvement in the Salisbury poisonings in 2018.

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