Czech president at centre of fresh controversy over nerve agent row with Russia

Russian embassy in Prague, photo: CTK

The Czech Republic on Tuesday joined over a dozen other EU member states in expelling diplomats in reaction to the recent poisoning of a Russian double agent in Great Britain. The government’s decision to expel three Russian diplomats from the country received broad support with the only sour note coming from the president.

Andrej Babiš, photo: CTK
In what was part of a highly coordinated EU response, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš appeared at a press conference in Prague at precisely 3pm on Monday to announce that the Czech Republic was expelling three diplomats from the 53-member strong Russian embassy.

“When an ally asks for help in a grave situation you give that help. A nerve agent attack in a foreign country puts civilians at risk and is a more brutal form of espionage than we have been used to in the past. Moreover, the Russians crossed all boundaries when they said the Novichok agent could have come from the Czech Republic. That is a lie”

Foreign Minister Martin Stropnický said that the selection of the diplomats to be expelled had been made in consultation with the country’s intelligence services adding that they had been given a week to leave the country.

Russian embassy in Prague, photo: CTK
The decision received broad support from the country’s opposition politicians who stressed not only the need to stand by an ally, but to respond to the unjustified accusation that the nerve gas which was used in the attack could have been developed in the Czech Republic. The Communist Party and the anti-migrant party of Freedom and Direct Democracy alone expressed reservations to the decision pointing to a lack of proof that Russia was behind the poisoning.

However, it was President Miloš Zeman who caused the biggest stir in the hours immediately after the announcement. Although the president did not publicly comment on the expulsions he raised the ire of many politicians by commissioning the Czech Intelligence Service to look into the Russian accusation that Novichok could have been produced and tested in this country.

The head of the center-right Civic Democrats Petr Fiala accused the president of servility and aiding Russian disinformation. He said the president was undermining the position of the prime minister who had clearly said the Russian accusation was a lie, and he urged the prime minister to take a strong stand against this.

Miloš Zeman, photo: Khalil Baalbaki
TOP 09 echoed those sentiments, adding that Miloš Zeman failed to defend the country’s national interests and was himself a security risk for the Czech Republic.

The strongest statement of all came from the Party of Mayors and Independents which suggested that the president should be impeached on grounds of treason. By giving credibility to the Russian claim the Czech head of state is assisting the disinformation campaign waged by Russia and that amounts to treason. The Senate should take action, Jan Farský, head of the party’s deputy club in the lower house told the news site, adding that he himself would try to act on that matter.