Czech Republic expels 18 Russian diplomats over involvement in ammunition depot explosion

The Czech Foreign Ministry announced that it is expelling 18 Russian diplomats. They are accused of working for the Russian special services, reported Novinky, citing the country's Interior Minister, Jan Gamachek.

According to Gamachek, these people were identified as employees of the Russian Military Intelligence Directorate (GRU) and the Foreign Intelligence Service. The diplomats were given 48 hours to leave the Czech Republic.

The authorities in Prague made this decision, as they came to the conclusion that Russian intelligence was involved in the explosion at an ammunition depot in the Czech Republic in 2014.

According to Czech police, GRU officers Alexander Mishkin and Anatoly Chepiga, who are suspected of poisoning Sergei and Yulia Skripal in the UK, were also behind the explosions. According to Czech law enforcement officials, they arrived in Prague on October 13, 2014 and left for Russia via Austria on October 16. They used passports with the fictitious names of Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov, which they later used to travel to Salisbury.

The official purpose of their trip was to visit an ammunition depot in Vrbetice, where they had booked spots in advance. Anyone wishing to visit the site for business reasons must send an email to the site’s administrators, and if the request is made by foreigners, they must also provide copies of their passports. The documents that Chepiga and Mishkin sent to Vrbetice differed from those which they used to enter the Czech Republic. This time they used passports issued in the name of Ruslan Tabarov and Nikolai Pop respectively.

According to the Czech police, during Chepiga and Mishkin's visit, Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev purchased weapons from the Czech warehouse which were supposed to be exported to Ukraine. Goebrev was poisoned by GRU six months later.

In April 2015, there were also explosions at an arms depot in Iganovo in Bulgaria. Presumably, they were committed by the same unit of the GRU. A total of 8 staff members of the GRU unit visited Bulgaria at the end of 2014 and early 2015.

The Russian Embassy in Prague reported that the Czech side notified them about the expulsion of the diplomats.

"Yes, the Czech side notified us. The ambassador is summoned to the Czech Foreign Ministry today," the Russian Embassy in Prague said.

The explosions in Vrbetice, which the Czech authorities now believe was carried out by Russian special services, took place on October 16, 2014. According to preliminary estimates, 10,000 kg of munitions, including medium-range missiles, exploded. Two people were killed. Up until now it was not known what caused the explosion. The negligence of the workers was one of the alleged causes.

  Czech Republic, Russia

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