Russia must re-admit all 20 expelled Czech diplomats to their embassy in Moscow by Thursday, April 22 at 12pm, said the newly appointed Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jakub Kulhanek, after meeting with the Russian Ambassador to the Czech Republic, Alexander Zmeyevski, or Czechia will expel more Russian diplomats to level the numbers of diplomats at both embassies.
According to Kulhanek, Prime Minister Andrej Babis and President Milos Zeman are united in this move.
The decision comes after Russia expelled 20 Czech diplomats in a tit-for-tat round of expulsions of their diplomats. Czechia decided to remove 18 Russian diplomats, all alleged members of the Russian intelligence services, because of the Kremlin´s suspected involvement in two arms warehouse explosions that resulted in two deaths. According to the Czech Foreign Ministry, the Czech Embassy in Moscow now has just five diplomats and 19 other staff, while the huge Russian Embassy in Prague – long seen as the base for Russian spying in the region – still has 27 diplomats and 67 other staff.
The tensions between both countries might be intensified further after Czech police units from the National Centre for Combatting of Organised Crime today detained five people suspected of taking part in the fighting or organising of such actions in the east of Ukraine alongside Russia-backed separatists of the Donetsk People’s Republic.
As the Czech media reported, hundreds of police officers took part in the intervention, and the police suspect it was the Russian secret agency GRU from the Russian Embassy in Prague who incited the members of paramilitary groups to make the trips.
iROZHLAS.cz server wrote that the investigation has been focused on a paramilitary association. Police reportedly found that one of its members had gone to the Donbas in the past, fighting on the side of the separatists. After returning, the association started raising money to send other people to the war zone.
Shattered relations between Prague and Moscow also led to the exclusion of Russian state-owned nuclear energy company Rosatom from participating in one of the biggest tenders for a new nuclear power unit at Dukovany plant earlier this week.
Rosatom responded that this decision was anti-market and political, and will harm Czechia's own industry as the Russian proposal envisaged the involvement of hundreds of Czech and European companies in the project, with contracts worth billions of euros.
Pro-Russian Czech President Milos Zeman pushed for Rosatom to take part in the €6bn Czech tender very loudly, so this reverse will be hard for him to accept. He has not made any comments regarding the current events so far, but as his spokesman confirmed, he will do so this weekend.
According to the Czech political analyst and a director of New York University´s Prague campus Jiri Pehe, Prague Castle may have been supporting the recent efforts of the Communist Party and the far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) party of Tomio Okamura to undermine Babis’s government.
He asks “whether the Castle hadn’t sanctioned this initiative precisely because Zeman already might have known that the Russian engagement in Vrbetice would be made public.”
Pehe suggested that Zeman could have wanted to form his own government not only because of his own priorities, but also to have control over events that would come out after the Vrbetice explosions announcement.
“We also cannot avoid the question of whether Babis’ announcement of a possible Russian terrorist act in our country was a declaration of war against the Castle, which clearly had been trying to get rid of him in recent weeks,” Pehe concluded.