The Czech Republic on Monday expelled two Russian diplomats for alleged espionage, provoking an angry reaction from Moscow. The move has put a further strain on bilateral relations already soured by US plans to build a radar base in the country as part of its missile defense shield.
Sergei Lavrov, photo: CTK
Russian Embassy in Prague
The deputy military attaché of the Russian Embassy in Prague was ordered out of the country and another diplomat was advised not to return from holiday on suspicion that they worked for the Russian intelligence service. Officials in Prague were tight-lipped with neither the Intelligence Service, nor the Defense Ministry willing to comment. Citing unnamed sources, commercial TV NOVA reported that the Russian diplomats had allegedly tried to develop close ties with people from the Czech Defense Ministry and shown a particular interest in the planned construction of a US radar base on Czech soil. The plan, currently on hold pending a review by the Obama administration and due to stalled ratification by the Czech Parliament, has prompted an increase in Russian spying activity in the Czech Republic and attempts to influence the country against the radar. The first signs of this appeared in 2007 when the Czech Intelligence Service reported “a heightened activity of the Russian secret service in the country” saying that Russian agents had moved from a passive monitoring of the situation to active attempts to influence both officials and the public. In fact the intelligence service believes that of the 200 diplomats and employees working at the Russian embassy and consulates in Brno and Karlovy Vary up to two thirds are paid agents.
The Russian embassy in Prague has declined to comment on the reports but Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday denounced the expulsions as “another provocation” from Prague and an official of the Russian Foreign Ministry told the Russian ITAR-TASS news agency the Czech decision would not help the development of friendly relations between the two countries. As expected, on Tuesday Moscow retaliated by expelling two Czech diplomats from the country.