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Czech Republic expels Russian Embassy staff over 2014 blast

April 17, 2021

The Czech Republic has accused Russian intelligence of being involved in a 2014 explosion at a military ammunition warehouse. It's searching for suspects involved in the 2018 Skripal poisoning.

https://p.dw.com/p/3rr3u
Russian embassy in Prague
A policeman walks by a poster attached by protesters to a gate of the Russian Embassy in PragueImage: Petr David Josek/AP Photo/picture alliance

The Czech Republic is expelling 18 Russian diplomats over alleged links to an ammunition depot explosion in 2014, Prime Minister Andrej Babis said Saturday.

They have been given 48 hours to leave the country.

Why Czechia is expelling Russian diplomats

On October 16, 2014, there was a blast at a warehouse containing 58 tonnes of ammunition near the eastern Czech village of Vrbetice.

It was followed months later by another big explosion at a nearby warehouse with 98 tonnes of ammunition.

"The explosion led to huge material damage and posed a serious threat to the lives of many local people, but above all it killed two citizens," Babis said.

Babis said Czech authorities had "clear evidence" linking GRU Russian intelligence agency officers from unit 29155 to the blasts, after receiving information on Friday.

The expelled Russians have all been identified as members of their country's SWR and GRU intelligence services.

Babis added: "The Czech Republic is a sovereign state and must adequately react."

But Russia hit back at the accusations. The Interfax news agency cited Vladimir Dzhabarov, first deputy head of the upper house's international affairs committee, as saying Prague's claims were absurd and Russia's response should be proportionate.

Prague on Sunday said it would inform its NATO and European Union allies about its latest findings.

Police hunt for Skripal suspects

Meanwhile, the Czech organized crime squad (NCOZ) said it was looking for two men using Russian passports in relation to the explosions.

The names in the passports are

Alexander Petrov, born in 1979, and Ruslan Boshirov, born in 1978. The names match those of the two people wanted in Britain over the poisoning of double Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury in 2018.

suspects Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshiro
Czech police are looking for two men traveling on Russian passports with the same names as the suspects in the attempted 2018 Skripal poisoning in the UKImage: picture-alliance/Met Police UK

The suspected GRU members are said to have been present in the Czech Republic for six days in mid-October 2014, visiting the region where the ammunition depot is located.

kmm, jsi/aw (AP, Reuters, dpa)

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