If Moscow accepted the Czech version of the explosions in the ammunition depot in Vrbětice, it would be a well-executed and successful operation for which Russia should not be ashamed. That is the opinion of Oleg Barabanov, a professor at the MGIMO Moscow diplomatic school, who wrote this in a commentary in the Russian newspaper Vedomosti. He compared the operation with Israel’s operations against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Barabanov emphasized at the outset that “Russia’s official position denies any connection between our special services and this explosion.” However, if Moscow accepted the Czech interpretation of the explosion, “then it would be a well-executed, courageous, complex and militarily extremely useful operation,” for which “we could be proud and not be ashamed of it“.
Two Czech citizens died in an explosion in an ammunition depot in Vrbětice in October 2014. The total damage caused was estimated at one billion korunas.
In his argument, Barabanov referred to the statement of Czech President Miloš Zeman. “The Czech president admitted that weapons stored by the Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev were stored in the warehouse and that they were most likely intended for covert deliveries to Ukraine. It seems that these weapons would soon appear on the battlefield in Donbas and would be used against the (unrecognized) Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republic. “
The Russians in the Donbas need to be protected
Barabanov then indirectly admitted that Russia was involved on their side. “Of course, Russia is not officially there, but it is something else — no one will deny the pro-Russian character of these republics. Under such conditions, any responsible intelligence operation that values itself is simply obliged to thwart the supply of weapons to the conflict area at the country’s borders,“ he wrote.
“When the Israeli secret services blew up Iran’s nuclear facilities and killed Iranian nuclear physicists, they acted according to this logic. And note that no one but Iran is vilifying Israel for this,” he noted.
“No one has prevented the Czech Republic as a sovereign state from officially supplying arms to Ukraine,” admitted Barabanov, who is also the program director of the Valday discussion club, which also includes Russian President Vladimir Putin. “But if they have chosen the path of smuggling instead, smugglers must be fought just like pirates,” he stressed.
Deportation of diplomats troubles Russia
At the same time, he pointed out that none of the 18 Russian diplomats expelled en masse from the Prague embassy, even according to the Czech version, had anything to do with the 2014 explosions. However, his statement shows that Russia is worried about the expulsion of diplomats.
“In recent days, there has been a scandal with the expulsion of Russian diplomats from the Czech Republic and other countries that is growing like a snowball,” Barabanov admitted.
“But President Miloš Zeman’s speech could stop it,” he added.
He reminded readers that in Soviet times there was a joke that the workers of the Soviet embassy get deported either for espionage or petty theft in a supermarket. Given the rise in living standards since Soviet times, the second cause does not seem current.
He mentioned that if diplomats are caught directly in the act, it is clear that they cannot be imprisoned and tried because there is diplomatic immunity. That’s why, in such cases, they would be expelled. “This is the ordinary bread of intelligence, and if relations between the two states are strong enough and there is a mutual interest not to harm them, a single espionage scandal will not spoil them,” the professor wrote.
According to him, a completely different situation arises when diplomats must be expelled not because they were caught in espionage, but for political reasons — to show how serious dissatisfaction is with the actions of the other country. According to him, this is now the procedure in the case of Vrbětice and also earlier in the case of the poisoning of double-agent Sergei Skripal.
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 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. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)