Czech Republic expels 18 Russian embassy staff

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"There is well-grounded suspicion about the involvement of officers of the Russian intelligence service GRU, unit 29155, in the explosion of ammunitions depot in the Vrbetice area", Babis told a briefing shown live on television.

The Czech Republic is expelling 18 Russian diplomats over alleged links to an ammunition depot explosion in 2014, Prime Minister Andrej Babis said Saturday.

The Czech Republic said on Sunday it had informed North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and European Union allies about suspected Russian involvement in a 2014 ammunition depot explosion and the matter would be addressed at an EU foreign ministers' meeting on Monday.

The explosion happened on 16 October at a depot in the town of Vrbetice where 50 tonnes of ammunition was being stored.

According to Czech police, the two men used two Russian passports as well as a Moldovan and Tajikistan passport while in the Czech Republic.

Interior Minister Jan Hamacek, who is also serving as the foreign minister, said the Russian embassy staffers were clearly identified as Russian military spies.

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These are the same names used by two Russian intelligence officers the United Kingdom says carried out the poisoning in Salisbury, Wiltshire in 2018.

After Salisbury, the two men were identified as Alexander Mishkin and Anatoliy Chepiga and subsequently appeared on Russian TV to claim they were sports nutritionists who had visited Salisbury to see the cathedral spire.

Meanwhile, Czech police said they were searching for two individuals in connection with the ongoing investigation.

A local woman, Dawn Sturgress, died months later after being poisoned by nerve agent in a discarded perfume bottle.

A diplomatic source cited by Russian news agency Interfax suggested the expulsions could prompt Russia to shut the Czech Republic's embassy in Moscow.

The Interfax news agency cited Vladimir Dzhabarov, first deputy head of the upper house's worldwide affairs committee, as saying Prague's claims were absurd and Russia's response should be proportionate.

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