Prague, March 26 (CTK) – The Czech Republic is expelling three members of the Russian diplomatic staff in reaction to the nerve poison attack on former Russian agent Sergei Skripal in Britain, as a step of solidarity with Britain, PM Andrej Babis (ANO) told journalists today.
He said Russia carried it too far when it labelled the Czech Republic as a possible country of origin of Novichok, the poison that was used in the attack on Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury in early March.
The opposition Civic Democrats (ODS) and Social Democrats (CSSD) have welcomed the government’s decision. According to the Communists (KSCM), Prague lacks a reliable evidence to justify its step.
Foreign Minister Martin Stropnicky (ANO) said he met Russian Ambassador to Prague, Alexander Zmeyevsky, earlier today to inform him about the expulsion.
Three members of the Russian diplomatic corps and their families have to leave the Czech Republic by April 1.
“In view of diplomatic habits, we cannot specify the position of the three diplomats concerned,” Stropnicky said, adding that Prague has acted with deliberation, not haphazardly.
Stropnicky said Prague has taken the step in coordination with other EU members, who, too, have expelled Russian diplomats, as has the USA.
Britain, which accuses Russia of the attack on Skripal and his daughter Yulia, previously expelled 23 Russian diplomats.
Moscow has resolutely rejected the accusation and has reacted to London’s step reciprocally.
Babis said the Czech Republic, a part of the EU and NATO, is firmly integrated in Western structures.
“If our ally asks us for help in a serious situation, we should meet the request,” Babis said.
He said a nerve gas attack in a foreign country endangers the civilian population and hints at more brutal espionage methods than what is usual.
“The Russians carried it too far when they said that Novichok, the poisonous substance, might have come from our country. It is a blatant lie and we have rejected this allegation since the very beginning,” Babis said.
He said in the past days he was in contact with President Milos Zeman, who showed interest in some information.
ODS chairman Petr Fiala said the expulsion of three Russian embassy officials “is a correct step and enjoys our support.”
“It is a necessary reaction that expresses our [Prague’s] membership of the Euro-Atlantic community, and it is also a response to unfounded accusations made by Russia,” Fiala, who is a lower house deputy chairman, tweeted.
CSSD chairman Jan Hamacek told CTK that he agrees with the government’s step.
“I consider the Russian utterances about the Czech Republic as a country of origin of the chemical substance that was used to attack agent Skripal absolutely unacceptable. Furthermore, the expulsion of three Russian diplomats is a step of solidarity with Britain,” saud Hamacek, who, too, is a lower house deputy chairman.
KSCM deputy chairman Josef Skala, however, said he can see no reliable evidence that would justify the Czech step.
“I would mind it if such steps, that lack a trustworthy justification, were taken against any country. In the given case, in addition, they escalate tension towards a big nuclear power. This is definitely not in either the Czech or European interest,” Skala told CTK.
He reminded of London’s allegation in the early 2000s that then Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had mass destruction weapons, which was later unveiled as a lie that made Britain’s allies a part of the [anti-Iraqi] aggression at variance with international law.
The allies “need to even more cautious now,” Skala added.
Czech counter-intelligence service (BIS) director Michal Koudelka and Defence Minister Karla Slechtova (for ANO) met President Zeman in the Lany presidential chateau this afternoon.
Zeman’s spokesman Jiri Ovcacek said Zeman tasked them to enquire into whether the nerve gas Novichok has ever been developed or stored in the Czech Republic, either in industrial or scientific facilities.
The Russian embassy in Prague employs 122 people including 45 with a diplomatic accreditation.
Compared with this, the Czech state has 56 employees in the whole territory of Russia, including 16 accredited diplomats.
Paul Ryan, head of the U.S. House of Representatives who is on a visit to Prague, has tweeted that by joining the step of solidarity with Britain, the USA has clearly sided with its allies and that Russia’s arrogance will meet with consequences.