Moscow on Monday rejected accusations by the Czech Republic about the alleged involvement of Russian intelligence agents in a 2014 explosion at an ammunition depot.
“We strongly disagree with these conclusions, which we consider to be inflammatory and unfriendly,” government spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, according to news agency Interfax.
The Czech Republic on Saturday expelled 18 Russian diplomats, accusing them of being involved in blasts at the ammunition depot in Vrbetice, 110 kilometres east of Prague, in October and December 2014, in which two people died.
The Russians had been identified as members of their country’s SWR and GRU intelligence services, Czech Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said.
According to the prosecutor’s office, the suspects are the same two Russians who are wanted for a nerve agent attack in Salisbury, England, in 2018.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said the two spies involved had botched the operation, which hadn’t been an “act of state terrorism” but rather for the goods of a Bulgarian arms dealer.
In retaliation, Russia has expelled 20 embassy staff members in Moscow.
According to Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova, 62 people were affected by the expulsions on the Russian side, including 28 children. “This is indeed an unprecedented story,” Zakharova said in comments carried by state television.
The Foreign Ministry has now banned Russian citizens from working at the Czech embassy.
Meanwhile, the Czech Republic is also considering permanently limiting the number Russian diplomats in the country, deputy premier Hamacek told journalists on Monday.
The government would discuss further steps to limit the activity of Russian agents in the country, Hamacek said, adding that he had already informed EU and NATO partners about the diplomatic dispute.
Hamacek said he was surprised about the severity of Russia’s reaction to the Czech Republic expelling the diplomats, saying Moscow’s tit-for-tat measure was “one level higher because even the deputy ambassador was expelled.”
The Czech embassy in Moscow is now practically incapacitated and could only exercise basic consular duties, he said.
Prague also is excluding Moscow from taking any contracts in relation to the expansion of the Dukovany nuclear power plant.
Only companies from the United States, France and South Korea would be invited to submit a tender for the work, which is offering a contract estimated to be worth more than 6 billion euros (7.2 billion dollars).