Czechs Get Backing From East European Allies in Russia Spy Feud
(Bloomberg) -- Three former communist NATO countries joined to back Prague in its diplomatic feud with Moscow, saying the alleged involvement of Russian agents in a deadly blast seven years ago was “an act of aggression.”
The Czech Republic and Russia expelled a record number of each other’s diplomats in the past week after the government in Prague blamed Moscow’s agents for an explosion at an ammunitions warehouse that killed two Czechs and caused about $50 million of damage. Russia rejected the claims as absurd.
After several members of the European Union’s eastern wing also ousted Russian embassy staff in an act of solidarity, the prime ministers of Poland, Hungary and Slovakia jointly denounced what they called “illegal and violent actions carried out by the Russian intelligence operatives.”
“We condemn this as yet another deplorable act of aggression and breach of international law committed by Russia on European soil,” they said in a statement on Monday.
The dispute, which brought relations between Prague and the Kremlin to the lowest point since at least the fall of the Iron Curtain three decades ago, is also causing a domestic political turmoil.
The Czech Republic’s pro-Russian president, Milos Zeman, drew criticism for comments about the rift that fellow politicians said favored Moscow’s interests over his own nation.
On Sunday, Zeman said the EU and NATO member was right to expel diplomats that it identifies as spies. But he urged restraint in taking further actions and said Prague shouldn’t be quick to impose economic punishment on its Soviet-era master.
He contradicted the government’s account that it had evidence linking two operatives of Russia’s GRU intelligence service to the explosion. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government called the accusations absurd and responded by casting out diplomats to leave the Czech embassy in Moscow operating with a skeleton staff.
“Let’s wait, without hysteria and speculation, for the results of the investigation, and only then make a decision,” Zeman told Prima TV.
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