Prague, Czech Republic – Russia’s role in the explosion of a Czech ammunition storage depot does not constitute “state terrorism”, Prime Minister Andrej Babis said after a government meeting on Monday evening.
“Not state terrorism”: Czech PM Babis faces backlash after comments
According to M. Babis, the operation carried out by agents of Russia’s military intelligence GRU agency was simply a botched attacks on goods being purchased by a Bulgarian arms dealer and, as “unacceptable” as it is, does not constitute a direct act of state aggression against the Czech Republic.
The expression “state terrorism” has been used by numerous politicians to denounce Moscow’s alleged involvement, as well as by Bohuslav Sobotka, who was Prime Minister at the time of the explosion.
A string of opposition politicians angrily reacted to Babis’ statement on Monday. “So according to the Prime Minister, it wasn’t a terrorist attack on the Czech Republic? What was it then?” wrote Marian Jurecka, head of KDU-CSL, on Twitter. “A couple of Russian agents went on a trip and accidentally forgot a bomb in our military warehouse? Shouldn’t we apologize to them that it went off too soon?”
Czech investigators believe that the explosion at the Czech depot in Vrbetice targeted a shipment of ammunition bound for Ukraine arranged by Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev, and that the blast – which killed two people – was not meant to occur in the Czech Republic.
Tensions with Russia reach new high
After publicly supporting the release and declassification of the counterintelligence report pointing the finger at Moscow in the deadly 2014 explosion, the Czech Prime Minister appeared to backtrack, saying on Monday evening that the report may not fully be made public for national security reasons.
Top state prosecutor Pavel Zeman confirmed that the two GRU agents were the same suspects of the Salisbury assassination attempt who traveled to the Czech Republic under false identities.
The revelation of Russia’s suspected role in the 2014 explosion triggered an unprecedented diplomatic crisis between Prague and Moscow, and led to the mutual expulsion of more than a dozen diplomats.
On Monday, the EU’s top diplomat Josef Borrell said that the bloc was standing in unity and solidarity with the Czech Republic.
The rift comes at a time of heightened tensions between Russia and Europe, exemplified by the “largest-ever” Russian military build-up near Ukraine’s eastern borders.