The Czech Republic is expelling 18 Russian diplomats over suspicions that Russian intelligence services were involved in an ammunition depot explosion in 2014, its government said, Trend reports citing Reuters.
The central European country is a NATO and EU member state, and the expulsions and allegations have triggered its biggest row with Russia since the end of the communist era in 1989.
Its actions could prompt Russia to consider closing the Czech Republic’s embassy in Moscow, a diplomatic source cited by Russian news agency Interfax suggested.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said in a briefing shown live on television that there was “well-grounded suspicion about the involvement of officers of the Russian intelligence service GRU… in the explosion of an ammunitions depot in the Vrbetice area.”
Several explosions shook the Vrbetice depot, 330 km (205 miles) southeast of Prague, in October 2014, killing two employees of a private company that was renting the site from a state military organisation.
Babis called the circumstances “unprecedented and scandalous”, while a Russian lawmaker cited by Interfax described his allegation as absurd.
The U.S. embassy in Prague said on Twitter that Washington “stands with its steadfast ally, the Czech Republic. We appreciate their significant action to impose costs on Russia for its dangerous actions on Czech soil.”
Acting Czech Foreign Minister Jan Hamacek said the 18 Russian embassy staff, identified as secret service personnel, would be ordered to leave within 48 hours.