Czechs Say Russian Retaliation Stronger Than Expected, Urge EU Solidarity

April 19, 2021 Updated: April 19, 2021

PRAGUE—The Czech Republic said on April 19 that Russia’s eviction of 20 Czech Embassy employees in response to Prague’s expulsion of 18 Russian staff was a stronger-than-expected reaction and that the government will consider further steps.

Acting Czech Foreign Minister Jan Hamacek said he had asked fellow European Union foreign ministers for “an expression of solidarity” at a video conference on April 18.

“I expect that also on the basis of this … we will learn about more expressions of support and it will be up to member states if they add some concrete decisions,” he said.

The central European country ordered the Russian diplomats out on April 17, saying it suspected Russian intelligence was involved in explosions at an ammunition depot in October and December 2014.

Protest over Russian intelligence alleged involvement in 2014 ammunition depot explosion, in Prague
A man carrying a NATO flag walks past police officers outside the Russian Embassy in Prague, Czech Republic, on Apr. 18, 2021. (David W Cerny/Reuters)

The Czech government has said it has reason to suspect that two Russian intelligence agents accused of a nerve agent poisoning in Britain in 2018 were behind the ammunition depot blasts four years before that killed two people.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry criticized Prague’s decision not to disclose all details of the investigation to Moscow, describing the affair as a blow to bilateral relations.

“This is proof that this whole story is a fabricated, dirty, disgusting fake,” RIA news agency cited Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying.

The row is the biggest between Prague and Moscow since the end of decades of Soviet rule over Central and Eastern European countries in 1989.

The Kremlin, commenting on the allegations that Russian intelligence was involved in the explosions and on the subsequent diplomatic expulsions, called the Czech Republic’s actions “provocative and unfriendly.”

The Czech Foreign Ministry said the Russian Embassy in Prague had 129 diplomats and other personnel, and two regional consulates—about twice the size of the Czech Embassy in Moscow.

By Jason Hovet, Jan Lopatka, and Alexander Marrow