Czech Republic to Expel Russian Diplomats Suspected of Working for Russian Intelligence


The individuals' photographs, shared online by the Czech police, indicate that the two wanted men are the same suspected Russian intelligence agents accused of trying to assassinate Sergey Skripal and his daughter in England in March 2018.

The explosion, which took place on October 16, 2014 in a depot in the town of Vrbetice where 50 metric tons of ammunition was stored, claimed two victims.

"There is a reasonable suspicion of the involvement of officers of the Russian secret service GRU in the explosions of ammunition depots in Vrbětice".

Relations between Russia and the Czech Republic soured a year ago, after the Czech magazine Respekt reported in April that a Russian diplomat had brought ricin, a deadly poison, into the country allegedly to kill Czech politicians involved in the dismantling of a statue to a Soviet war hero in Prague.

The Czech police said the two men were also using passports issued by Moldova for Nicolai Popa and a passport issued by Tajikistan for Ruslan Tabarov.

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.

According to Czech police they were first in Prague, and later in the Morovian-Silesian region and then finally in the Zlin region.

"We are in a situation similar to that in Britain following the attempted poisoning in Salisbury in 2018", Czech Interior Minister and Foreign Minister Jan Hamáček said when announcing the results of the investigation on Saturday night.

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"We have good reason to suspect the involvement of GRU officers from unit 29155 in the explosion at the ammunition warehouse in Vrbetice" in the east of the country, Babis said.

The Czech Republic is expelling 18 Russian diplomats over suspicions that Russian intelligence services were involved in an ammunition explosion in 2014, Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Foreign Minister Jan Hamacek said earlier on Saturday. Now Czech authorities believe the same men were involved in the bombing of a warehouse in Vrbetice, in the east of the country.

"The explosion led to huge material damage and posed a serious threat to the lives of many local people, but above all it killed two citizens", Babis said.

The photographs supplied by Czech police match those of two men identified by United Kingdom police as suspects in the 2018 poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, England.

Hamacek said the the case will significantly harm Czech-Russian relations.

Russian Federation denied involvement but some 300 diplomats were sent home in subsequent tit-for-tat expulsions.

The Czech Republic "has apparently made a decision to close its embassy in Moscow" by expelling 18 Russian diplomats, the Interfax news agency quoted an unnamed diplomatic source as saying on Saturday.