World, Europe

'Questions linger in Russian-Czech diplomat crisis'

Many points about 2014 explosion in Czech Republic still have not been clarified, says analyst

Mehmet Yilmaz and Askin Kiyagan   | 03.05.2021
'Questions linger in Russian-Czech diplomat crisis' The Russian Federation embassy building is seen in Prague, Czech Republic on April 18, 2021. Czech Minister of Foreign affairs Jan Hamacek and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis declared that they will expel 18 Russian diplomats identified by Czech intelligence as secret agents of the Russian SVR and GRU services and are suspected of involvement in an explosion in an ammunition warehouse in Vrbetice in 2014. ( Lukas Kabon - Anadolu Agency )

PRAGUE

The 2014 arms depot blasts in the Czech Republic may have links to the Russian secret service, but Prague's statements on the issue so far failed to reveal conclusive evidence, according to an expert and journalist.

“Many points about the issue still have not been clarified. The most important question is why an incident that took place six years ago came to the fore today,” Gabor Stier, a senior foreign policy analyst at Hungarian daily Magyar Nemzet, told Anadolu Agency.

Stressing that such serious accusations must be proven, Stier said that Germany is trying to stop Prague from further escalating tension.

"As expected, (Czech) President Milos Zeman, who has good relations with Moscow, was more cautious about this issue,” said Stier.

“He drew attention to the shortcomings of the investigation and the absence of any Russian contacts on this issue in the annual report of the intelligence service."

2014 explosions

On April 17, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis announced that 18 Russian diplomats had been declared persona non grata over their alleged links to huge explosions in 2014 at military warehouses in the town of Vrbetice which left two people dead.

The diplomats were asked to leave the country within 48 hours.

Russia protested the decision, calling it "unfounded." It said that earlier, Czech authorities had investigated the case and found the companies that owned the warehouses guilty.

Britain has said it "stands in full support" of its Czech allies.

A UK statement said the two officers of Russia's GRU, who were charged with the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury in 2018, were also behind the explosions in Vrbetice.

British intelligence has accused Russian nationals Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov and charged them for the Novichok attack in Salisbury.

One day after the Czech Republic's deportation decision, Russia announced that it was declaring 20 Czech diplomats persona non grata and expelling them in response.

The Russian Foreign Ministry also demanded that the number of locally hired staffers at the Czech Embassy be reduced to the same level as at the Russian Embassy in Prague.

*Writing by Gozde Bayar

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