European Council President Charles Michel says the Russian government's action "undermines diplomatic relations." (file photo)
The European Council has criticized Russia’s decision to designate the United States and the Czech Republic as "unfriendly," a move by Moscow that will limit the two Western countries in their hiring of staff for embassy operations in Russia.
The Russian government published its official list of "unfriendly" countries on May 14. It pledged to apply the measure to other countries if they engage in "unfriendly actions."
The designation will bar the United States from hiring local personnel for its diplomatic missions in Russia, and caps the number of local hires for the Czech Republic at 19.
European Council President Charles Michel on May 15 called the Russian government’s action "another escalatory step" that "undermines diplomatic relations."
On May 14, the Czech Foreign Ministry said in statement that "we consider this course of action by the Russian Federation to be another step toward the escalation of relations not only with the Czech Republic, but also with the E.U. and its allies."
The move is "completely contrary to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations," the statement said, adding that it would affect tourism and business between the two countries.
Relations between Prague and Moscow have soured considerably following Czech accusations on April 17 that Russia was involved in a deadly arms-depot blast on Czech territory in 2014.
The two countries have engaged in harsh rhetoric and tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions in the weeks since, with the Czechs backed by Brussels and Washington.
"This proves that the Czech Republic’s response to the Vrbetice incident was correct, and its reaction affected Russia so deeply that [Moscow] decided to include us on the list of unfriendly nations, along with the United States," Czech Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said on May 14.
The U.S. Embassy in Prague tweeted that “we are proud to stand alongside our steadfast ally, the Czech Republic!”
With reporting by AP, Reuters, and TASS