Two Russian diplomats are being expelled by the Czech government amid a hoax poison plot against three Prague politicians.
The government in Prague says infighting between Russian embassy staff resulted in one of them sending details of the fictitious plot to Czech intelligence. In response, the three mayors were initially given police protection.
Russia condemned the expulsions as an “unfriendly act”.
The expulsion was announced on Friday by Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who described the move as “appropriate and adequate”.
“We are interested in having good relations with all countries, but we are a sovereign state and such actions are unacceptable on our territory.” He gave no more details about the new information.
“The government has offered an explanation, but we still don’t see the full picture,” said Ondřej Kundra of the Czech weekly Respekt, the journalist who broke the original story about the plot. “It’s hard to imagine the government would expel two Russian diplomats just because they said nasty things about each other.”
Was there a plot?
Details of an apparent plot first emerged in Czech weekly, Respekt, which reported that a Russian agent had travelled to Prague with a suitcase containing the highly potent toxin, ricin.
It claimed the poison might be used to target Czech politicians who had angered Russia. At the time Russia condemned the reports as “misinformation” and “sick fantasies”.
Czech TV then named the man involved as Andrei Konchakov, head of the Russian Centre for Science and Culture in Prague, and he rubbished the story saying he had merely brought “disinfectant and sweets” in his suitcase
Mr. Konchakov is one of the two diplomats ordered to leave, along with his deputy, Igor Rybakov, an official has told Ria Novosti.
The reports were taken seriously enough to send Ondrej Kolar, mayor of Prague’s sixth district, into hiding. He had ordered the removal of a statue of Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev in Prague, angering Russia.
Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib had also annoyed Moscow by renaming a square next to the Russian embassy after murdered Russia opposition politician Boris Nemtsov. Another mayor had backed a memorial to the anti-Soviet “Russian Liberation Army”.
The Russian embassy in Prague dismissed the expulsion on its Facebook page as “provocation”.
“Based on ungrounded accusations in the media from the beginning, this hostile step shows Prague is not interested in normalising Russian-Czech relations, which have recently degraded, for which we cannot be blamed,” the embassy said.