Russia gives diplomats just over 24 hours to leave the country, in response to Czech expulsion of 18 Russian diplomats.
Russia on Sunday expelled 20 Czech diplomats in retaliation for a slew of diplomatic expulsions by Prague and gave the affected Czech diplomats just over 24 hours to leave the country, the RIA news agency quoted the foreign ministry as saying.
The Czech Republic on Saturday expelled 18 Russian diplomats after saying that two alleged Russian spies accused of a nerve agent poisoning in Britain in 2018 were behind a deadly explosion at a Czech ammunition depot four years earlier.
In an earlier statement on Sunday, the Russian foreign ministry called the Czech announcement “absurd”.
“We will take retaliatory measures that will force the authors of this provocation to understand their full responsibility for destroying the basis of normal relations between our countries,” the ministry said.
A source told the AFP news agency on Sunday that the Czech ambassador in Russia had been summoned to the foreign ministry. The Russian foreign ministry did not release any details.
On Saturday, Czech authorities said they would expel 18 Russian diplomats identified by local intelligence as secret agents of the Russian SVR and GRU security services suspected of involvement in a 2014 explosion.
Czech police also said they were seeking two Russians in connection with the blast that killed two people, and who carried passports used by suspects in the attempted poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in 2018.
Moscow called the announcement a “hostile step” and alleged it bore a “trace” of involvement by Washington.
“In their desire to please the United States against the background of recent US sanctions against Russia, Czech authorities in this respect even outdid their masters from across the pond,” the foreign ministry said.
Earlier this week, the US announced sanctions and the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats in retaliation for what Washington said was the Kremlin’s US election interference, a massive cyber attack and other hostile activity.
Russia responded in kind, saying it would expel 10 US diplomats and take other retaliatory moves in a tense showdown with Washington.
EU and NATO partners stood by Czech officials, with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab saying on Sunday that Britain “stands in full support of our Czech allies”.
“I resolutely condemn the subversive activities targeting the security of … our closest neighbour and ally,” Slovak Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok said in a tweet.
“Killing the citizens of the Czech Republic on its territory by another country, that’s almost an act of war,” protester Tomas Peszynski told AFP news agency at a rally outside the Russian embassy in Prague on Sunday afternoon.
About 100 protesters sported banners, saying: “We’re not Russia’s backyard”. They chanted “Shame” while waving EU and NATO flags.
The night before, police detained seven people who had smeared the embassy wall with ketchup, symbolising blood.
Czech politicians joined the outcry, with government ministers saying Russian companies should not take part in the planned construction of a new nuclear unit worth billions of euros for security reasons.
“I can’t imagine (Russian energy giant) Rosatom getting as far as the security assessment,” Industry Minister Karel Havlicek said.