According to the content of a statement released yesterday by the Russian Foreign Ministry, 20 diplomats from the Embassy in Moscow of the Czech Republic will have to leave Russia throughout Monday. It is the response of the Russian authorities to the expulsion by Prague of 18 Russian diplomats announced on Saturday.
The Government of the Czech Republic accused these 18 employees of the Russian Embassy of carrying out intelligence tasks and of having participated in the coverage of the sabotage action carried out in 2014 against an arms depot in the town of Vrbetice, to the west of the country, carried out, according to Prague, by the agents of the Russian military intelligence (GRU) Alexander Petrov and Ruslán Boshrov, the same ones to whom London attributed the poisoning of the former Soviet spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, three years ago, in Salisbury.
But the Russian Foreign Ministry yesterday described as “delusional”, “absurd”, “hostile” and “unprecedented” the accusations of the Czech government. He believes such actions are instigated by Washington. That is why he declared 20 Czech diplomats “persona non grata”, two more of whom Prague expelled, and on top of that he forced them to leave the country at full speed.
The statement announcing the deportations was issued immediately after the Czech ambassador in Moscow, Vitezslav Pivonka, went to the Russian Foreign Office precisely to be informed of the measure. Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said that “we have strong reasons to suspect the involvement of officers from GRU unit 29155 in the explosion of the munitions depot in Vrbetice”, which caused two deaths at the time. All this occurs in a context in which, last week, Russia exchanged expulsions of diplomats also with the United States, Poland and Ukraine.
The main consequence that the deterioration of relations with Prague will probably lead to Russia is that the Russian corporation Rosatom loses the tender for the construction of a new reactor at the Czech Dukovany nuclear power plant, in the southeast of the country. Czech Industry Minister Karel Havlicek believes it is “unlikely” that Russia can now agree to the project, which will mean the loss of an important contract for Rosatom. Prague could even forgo the Russian Spútnik V vaccine.
The real names of Boshirov and Petrov are Anatoli Chepiga and Alexánder Mishkin, suspects in the assassination attempt on Skripal and whose intelligence unit is also linked to an alleged interference attempt in Catalonia and an attempted coup in Montenegro. Arsenal number 16 at the Vrbetice base exploded on October 16, 2014 and a second warehouse, number 12, suffered the same fate two months later. In addition to two deaths and extensive material damage, another consequence of the sabotage action, apparently motivated to prevent the weapons from being transferred to Bulgaria, was that several nearby towns had to be evacuated.
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