‘A path towards destroying relations’ Czech Republic to limit Russian Embassy staff in Prague amid escalating diplomatic tensions

Russian Ambassador Alexander Zmeevsky arriving for a meeting at the Czech Foreign MinistryMartin Divisek / EPA / Scanpix / LETA

On Thursday, April 22, the Czech Republic announced plans to limit the number of Russian Embassy staff in Prague to match the size of the Czech Embassy in Moscow. This comes amid escalating diplomatic tensions between the two countries, over Russia’s alleged involvement in a deadly explosion at a Czech arms depot in 2014. The diplomatic spat has resulted in tit-for-tat expulsions impacting dozens of embassy employees. The Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman has warned that Prague’s actions are threatening to “destroy relations” and that a response from the Kremlin “won’t be long to come.”

The Czech Republic has decided to limit the Russian Embassy staff in Prague to match the size of the Czech Embassy in Moscow. The Czech Foreign Ministry made this announcement during a press conference on the afternoon of Thursday, April 22 — just after a meeting with Russian Ambassador Alexander Zmeevsky. Earlier in the day, the Czech Foreign Ministry said that only 24 people remained at its embassy in Moscow: five diplomats and 19 administrative personnel. By comparison, the Russian Embassy in Prague has 27 diplomats and 67 administrative staff members. As such, the Russian diplomatic mission is likely set to lose 70 people. 

Both countries expelled a number of diplomats several days ago. The conflict began on April 17, when the Czech authorities accused Russia’s intelligence services of playing a role in an explosion at a Czech arms depot in 2014 that killed two people. The Czech Republic expelled 18 Russian diplomats suspected of being intelligence operatives from their posts in Prague. Moscow called the accusations “absurd and unfounded” and ejected 20 Czech diplomats in response.

Update. On Thursday, Slovakia announced the expulsion of three Russian diplomats in solidarity with the Czech Republic.

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On the evening of April 21, the Czech Republic demanded that Russia allow their expelled embassy staff to return to Moscow. Czech Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhánek asserted that the expulsions had “practically paralyzed the work” of the Czech Republic’s Russian Embassy, and called Moscow’s actions disproportionate. Kulhánek warned that Prague is prepared to continue tit-for-tat expulsions to equalize the number of employees at their respective embassies, unless Russia meets their demand by 12:00 p.m. on Thursday. Russia’s Foreign Ministry responded by telling the Czechs “to leave the ultimatums for communications within NATO.” 

The Czech Republic’s Senate suggested leaving just one person at the Russian Embassy in Prague. A resolution adopted by the Czech parliament’s upper house also called on the government to terminate the country’s treaty on friendly relations with Russia. The Czech presidential administration called the ongoing row between Moscow and Prague a “diplomatic war” and said that it will take a long time for relations to get back to normal.

The Czech Republic wanted other NATO countries to expel Russian diplomats in a show of solidarity, TASS reported, citing an anonymous diplomatic source in Brussels. Apparently, ahead of a recent meeting of the North Atlantic Council (NATO’s principal political decision-making body), the Czech Republic held bilateral consultations seeking support “for making a decision on the coordinated expulsion of a limited number of Russian diplomats by NATO countries.” In the end, this didn’t happen — the statement issued after the meeting expressed solidarity with the Czech Republic and “deep concern” regarding Russia’s “destabilizing actions.”

The Czech Ambassador to Moscow visited the Russian Foreign Ministry an hour after Prague’s announcement about limiting Russian Embassy staff. He was summoned again later in the evening on April 21 — Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova promised that there would be a “concrete conversation” with the Czech Ambassador about “what actions will be taken” if Prague follows through with its ultimatum. Following the decision to expel more Russian diplomats, Zakharova said, “Prague has embarked a path towards destroying relations, a response won’t be long in coming.”

Story by Grigory Levchenko

Translation by Eilish Hart


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