Czech minister calls for European solidarity over spat with Russia

European nations should expel Russian diplomats to support the Czech Republic in its ongoing spat with Moscow, a senior Czech minister has said.

Foreign and interior minister Jan Hamacek said that European Union and NATO member states should kick out diplomats after Prague expelled 18 Russians this weekend.

“We call for collective action by EU and NATO countries leading to expulsions in solidarity,” Hamacek told reporters.

In a Facebook post later on Tuesday, Hamacek said Prague was ready to expel all Russian diplomats over allegations of espionage.

“I’m ready for everything, even on building relationships from the beginning,” he said, “that means we send them all home.”

Hamacek said he would summon Russian ambassador Alexander Zmeyevsky to notify him of further action after 18 diplomats were expelled on charges of espionage and sabotage.

Prague has accused Moscow of orchestrating an explosion at an arms depot in the east of the country in 2014, which killed two people.

Citing an intelligence report, the Czech government said that agents of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence, were involved in the blast in Vrbetice.

Czech police said they were looking for two men with Russian passports bearing the same names as the suspects in the attempted Novichok poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in the United Kingdom in 2018.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said he didn’t consider the Russian action “an act of state terrorism” but said the presence of GRU agents is “absolutely unacceptable”.

Russia responded to the allegations by expelling 20 Czech diplomats, which effectively paralysed the country’s embassy.

Amid the tensions, the Czech government also said they were excluding Russia’s Rosatom from a multi-billion euro nuclear power plant tender, and ruled out using Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine.

The European Union said it would give “full support and solidarity” to the Czech Republic, with Brussels saying it was “deeply concerned by the systematic repetition of harmful and dangerous behaviour by Russia in Europe”.

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