Prague, Czech Republic – The Czech government has declared two Russian diplomats in Prague “persona non grata” and expelled them from the country, announced on Friday Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who described the move as “appropriate and adequate”.
The decision came after it was found that a Russian embassy employee spread false information about a planned poison attack on three Czech politicians, including the mayor of Prague, involved in incidents that angered Russia.
Moscow to respond “in kind” to expulsion of Russian diplomats in Czech Republic
“One embassy employee sent deliberately made-up information about a planned attack on Czech politicians to BIS [the Czech intelligence service],” Babis said in his statement.
“The entire case came into being as a result of internal feuding among workers at the embassy… with one of them sending made-up information to our (counterintelligence service) about a planned attack on Czech politicians,” he added. “We are interested in having good relations with all countries, but we are a sovereign state and such actions are unacceptable on our territory”.
After reports claimed that a Russian agent carrying the poison ricin arrived in the country, three politicians who had each made political gestures that angered Russia were given police protection.
“This unfriendly act, based from the start on unfounded allegations in the media, attests to Prague’s lack of interest in normalising Russian-Czech relations, which have deteriorated lately, and this has not been our fault,” reacted the Russian Embassy, denouncing the decision as a “fabricated provocation”.
Russia will respond “in kind”, according to the RIA news agency, citing Vladimir Dzhabarov, a senior Russian lawmaker. Russia’s foreign ministry also said Prague’s move “will not only receive an adequate response but will also be taken into account when shaping the Russian stance towards the Czech Republic.”
Bilateral relations turn sour
Despite Czech President Milos Zeman being a stark supporter of Moscow, overall bilateral relations have turned sour in recent months amid several politically charged rows and respective provocations.
The alleged assassination plot surfaced in April when the investigative Respekt weekly magazine reported that Czech intelligence services suspected a Russian who arrived in Prague on a diplomatic passport was sent to poison Prague mayor Zdenek Hrib, Prague 6 district mayor Ondrej Kolar, and Prague’s Reporyje district Pavel Novotny, who were all three involved in incidents that angered Russia.
In February, Prague mayor Zdenek Hrib, known to be an outspoken critic of Moscow, unveiled his plan to plans to rename the Russian embassy square in Prague after Boris Nemtsov, a Russian activist murdered in 2015 in the streets of Moscow, resulting in the the Russian embassy changing its official address a few weeks later.
In April, Ondrej Kolar’s district removed a statue of Soviet World War II commander Ivan Stepanovic Konev, whose armies completed the liberation of Prague from Nazi occupation, causing outrage in Russia and the Czech embassy in Moscow to be attacked by a group of protesters.
Pavel Novotny also provoked Moscow’s ire with plans to build a monument to the soldiers of General Andrei Vlasov’s army, another controversial issue for Russia.