Kulhánek: Russia must allow return of Czech diplomats it expelled
Russia must readmit all 20 of the diplomats it expelled from the Czech Embassy in Moscow on Sunday, the newly appointed Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs Jakub Kulhánek said in a press briefing after meeting with Russian Ambassador Alexander Zmeyevski on Wednesday afternoon. The deadline for Russia by when to conduct this move is set for 12 noon on Thursday.
If Moscow does not do so, the Czech Republic will expel more Russian diplomats so that their number at the Russian Embassy in Prague is the same as in the Czech Embassy in Moscow. Mr. Kulhánek said that he, the prime minister and the president are united in this move.
A Kremlin spokesman has since responded by saying that communicating with Russia through demands has no perspective, Czech Television reports.
The ultimatum comes after the release of intelligence which indicated that the Russian military intelligence service GRU played a role in the 2014 explosion at the Vrbětice munitions store, where two people died. The Czech Republic initially expelled 18 Russian diplomats in response, after which the Russians expelled 20 Czech diplomats in a tit-for-tat move. However, the Czech foreign minister pointed to the fact that this leaves the Czech Embassy in Moscow paralyzed, while the Russian Embassy in Prague still has enough staff to continue to operate.
The Russian Embassy in Prague has long been a focus of attention for experts and Czech intelligence services, who say that it houses far too many staff for normal diplomatic activity. Earlier reporting by Czech Radio suggested that the Russian Embassy had around 120 staff, of which 43 were diplomats, before the Czech Republic expelled 18 of them who were identified by Czech intelligence as likely spies. Currently, the Russian Embassy has over 20 diplomats left, while the Czech Embassy in Moscow has only five.