Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhánek announced on Thursday that the Russian side has until the end of May to withdraw its employees. The spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded that Czechia has embarked on a path of destroying relations with Russia and added that Russia’s answer would come soon.
Kulhánek emphasized that the situation was not the fault of the Czech Republic and that Russia was to blame, as it allegedly caused the explosion of ammunition depots in Vrbětice back in 2014. Prime Minister Andrej Babiš then said that Czechia was by no means trying to escalate the situation. According to Babiš, President Miloš Zeman is fully informed about the matter and agrees with the steps being taken by the Czech government.
Czechia decided to expel more Russian embassy workers after Russia did not respond in time to a request to allow all 20 Czech diplomats to return to the country’s embassy in Moscow. Russia banished them in response to the expulsion of 18 workers from Russia’s embassy in Prague, who, according to Czech authorities, worked for intelligence services.
Currently, only 24 staff members remain at the Czech Embassy in Moscow — five diplomats and 19 administrative and technical staff. The Russian Embassy in Prague now employs 27 diplomats and 67 administrative and technical staff. According to Kulhánek, 63 workers should leave the Russian embassy in Prague. The countries then agreed to both have seven diplomats and 25 other employees at their embassies.
“Prague has embarked on a path of destroying relations. Our answer will not be long in coming,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova in her first reaction to Kulhanek’s announcement.
The decision has been met with widespread praise from the opposition, although the chairman of the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL), Marian Jurečka, considers the deadline for Russian diplomats to leave Czechia to be too generous. The chairman of the Civic Democrats (ODS), Petr Fiala, shares the same opinion.
NATO officially supports Czechia
NATO has also officially commented on the situation, expressing deep concern at Russia’s actions.
“Allies express deep concern over the destabilising actions Russia continues to carry out across the Euro-Atlantic area, including on Alliance territory, and stand in full solidarity with the Czech Republic,” reads the NATO statement.
#NATO Allies were briefed on #Russia's intelligence activities, which resulted in the #Vrbetice explosion in 2014. Allies stand in solidarity with the #CzechRepublic & expressed deep concerns over Russia's destabilising actions. Statement:https://t.co/b1bL7obkhO
— Jens Stoltenberg (@jensstoltenberg) April 22, 2021
NATO has yet to say if it will support a coordinated action in expelling Russian diplomats. However, Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhánek has, in the meantime, asked Allies to summon Russian ambassadors to express their objection to Russia’s actions.
Title image: Car of Russia’s ambassador to Prague, Aleksandr Zmeyevsky, is parked in front of the Foreign Ministry in Prague, Czech Republic, Wednesday, April 21, 2021. The ambassador was summoned by newly appointed Foreign Minister Kulhanek to be handed the Czech notice of protest against the Russian expulsion move, which the Czechs consider disproportionate, saying it has paralyzed the Czech Embassy in Moscow following the fierce diplomatic crisis over allegations that Russian agents were involved in a massive Czech ammunition depot explosion in 2014. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)