Prague, Czech Republic – On Friday, Russia formally designated the Czech Republic and the United States as “unfriendly states” in a move designed to limit the number of local staff their embassy is allowed to employ.
US and Czech Republic labelled “unfriendly countries” by Russia
According to the Russian decree, cited by local news agency TASS, both countries have committed “unfriendly actions towards Russia, Russian citizens or Russian legal entities.”
As a result, the Czech embassy in Russia will only be allowed to hire a maximum of 19 Russian nationals to work at its diplomatic representation, and the United States won’t be able to employ a single one.
Late last month, Russian state TV published a list of more than half a dozen countries – including Czech Republic and the US, but also Poland, the UK, Ukraine and the three Baltic states – labelled as “unfriendly”.
But the “blacklist” published on Friday by the Russian government only includes the United States and the Czech Republic, for now.
“We consider this course of action by the Russian Federation to be another step towards the escalation of relations not only with the Czech Republic, but also with the EU and its allies,” commented the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement.
Czech authorities further argued that Moscow’s move was “completely contrary to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations”, and insisted that this did not “change the original decision to cap the number of employees at the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Prague” which, “unlike the Russian approach […] is in full compliance with international law.”
Deteriorating diplomatic relations
The Czech Republic received the support of EU Council President Charles Michel, who denounced the move as “another escalatory step [undermining] diplomatic relations.”
Relations between Russia and the Czech Republic took a turn for the worse one month ago following revelations of Moscow’s alleged role in a deadly explosion of a Czech ammunition depot in 2014, suspected to have been carried out by Russian military intelligence operatives.
Unprecedented tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats ensued, with a number of EU and NATO allies – including Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – declaring a handful of Russian diplomats persona non grata in solidarity with the Czech Republic.
Deputy Prime Minister Jan Hamacek, himself recently accused in the media of trying to strike a backroom deal with Russia to keep the case secret, told the Czech News Agency that Moscow’s reaction was proof the Czech government had reacted appropriately.
President Milos Zeman, known for his close links with Moscow and accused of undermining the conclusions of his own counterintelligence services in the growing diplomatic dispute with Russia, is expected to comment on the issue in a radio interview later today.