D.he Czech government has made serious allegations against Russia: According to Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and Interior Minister Jan Hamácek, Russian intelligence agents were involved in an attack in the Czech Republic in 2014 that resulted in serious explosions in the ammunition depot of a Czech weapons manufacturer. The government in Prague identified 18 Russian diplomats who were known to be members of Russian intelligence services as the first reaction to the revelations.
Russia denied the allegations and announced a response. The first explosion in the ammunition depot in Vrbetice in South Moravia occurred on October 16, 2014, killing two people. Another explosion occurred on December 3, 2014. The warehouses were rented from the armaments company Imex in Mährisch-Ostrau (Ostrava). According to Czech media reports, she is said to have done business with a Bulgarian arms dealer who was then selling armaments to Ukraine. In the summer of 2014, the conflict with Russia, which was occupying Crimea and supporting an uprising in the Donbas, and Ukraine had started.
Other Czech media over the weekend linked the 2014 explosions to the Syrian conflict. Babiš said on Saturday evening: “On the basis of clear evidence that has been produced by the investigations of our security forces, I have to state that there is a well-founded suspicion about the involvement of officers of the Russian secret service GRU, unit 29155, in the explosion of the ammunition dump in Vrbetice 2014 there. “In what way the Russian agents are supposed to have been involved, the Prime Minister did not say.
Babiš in an unsafe position
Interior Minister Hamácek, who is currently also serving as Foreign Minister, said the 18 members of the Russian embassy staff identified as secret service agents would have to leave the country within 48 hours. Babiš said that President Miloš Zeman had been informed of the affair and fully agreed with the anticipated response. Zeman is actually considered a proponent of close cooperation between the Czech Republic and Russia (and also China).
The affair comes at a time when the Babiš government is without a secured parliamentary majority six months before the election. The minority coalition of Babiš ‘Ano party and the social democratic CSSD, whose chairman is Hamacek, had so far been tolerated by the communists in parliament, but they withdrew their support last week because of the unpopular Corona policy. In addition, the previous Foreign Minister Petrícek had to leave the government, which has to do with a dispute within the social democratic party, but in the background possibly also with a disagreement about a western or eastern orientation. For example, it is controversial whether Russia is allowed to participate in the construction of a new nuclear reactor in Dukovany. The opposition has now called for Russia to be definitively excluded because of the explosion in Vrbetice.
Parallels to the Skripal case
Babiš announced that he had informed EU Council President Charles Michel about the suspicion of Russian involvement and Prague’s reaction. He wanted to put the EU partners in the picture at the next summit. Hamácek said: “We are in a situation similar to that of Great Britain in the case of the poisoning attempt in Salisbury in 2018.” There, the former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter were victims of a poisoning attack for which the government in London blamed Russia. At that time, numerous partners in Great Britain reacted by expelling Russian diplomats.
The Czech police unit NCOZ announced that it was looking for two men with Russian passports who had been traveling in the Prague and Moravian-Silesian regions in October 2014. The pictures and names on the passports that have been released are those of the two men who are also suspected of the murder of Skripal and his daughter.
The news server Respekt.cz, citing police sources, wrote that the two wanted men had arrived in Prague on October 13, 2014 under fictitious names with forged passports and had registered in advance for a visit to the Vrbetice ammunition depot. There were allegedly certain stocks for Ukraine. The explosion may have started prematurely by mistake and, according to the authors’ plans, might not have happened on Czech soil at all.
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