Breaking: Kremlin says Czech expulsion of its diplomats ‘provocative and unfriendly’
The Kremlin has denounced as “provocative and unfriendly” the Czech Republic’s expulsion of 18 Russian diplomats for alleged espionage activity.
Authorities in the Czech Republic announced on Saturday that the diplomats would be expelled after the local intelligence identified them as secret agents of the Russian security services who had been suspected of involvement in a 2014 explosion at a Czech ammunition depot that killed two people.
“We categorically do not agree with these conclusions. We consider them provocative and unfriendly,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in a news briefing on Monday.
Moscow retaliation was swift as on Sunday, 20 employees of the Czech embassy in Moscow were designated “persona non grata” and were told to leave Russia before the end of Monday.
It is the biggest dispute between the two countries since the end of decades of Soviet domination of Eastern Europe in 1989.
In the meantime, Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, has accused Washington of playing a part in the dispute.
She says the “hastily fabricated” accusations are aimed at distracting attentions from “accumulated problems in EU countries and in the West in general.”
Both the Czech and the US embassies in Moscow, she has said, would no longer be allowed to employ Russian citizens.
Reacting to Russia’s eviction of the 20 Czech embassy employees, Prague said on Monday that the move was stronger than expected and the government would consider further steps.
“The reaction (by Russia) is stronger than we had expected, it is more diplomats than the number of intelligence officers we expelled,” Acting Czech Foreign Minister Jan Hamacek told a televised news conference.
“I will meet the prime minister and discuss whether and when it will be needed to take some further steps from the Czech side.”
Hamacek said he had asked fellow European Union foreign ministers for “an expression of solidarity” at a video-conference earlier in the day.
“I expect that also on the basis of this…, we will learn about more expressions of support and it will be up to member states if they add some concrete decisions.”