The Czech Republic “has apparently decided to close its embassy in Moscow” by expelling 18 Russian diplomats, the Interfax news agency quoted an unnamed diplomatic source as saying on Saturday.
The Interfax news agency cited Vladimir Dzhabarov, first deputy head of the upper house’s international affairs committee, as saying Prague’s claims were absurd and Russia’s response should be proportionate.
The Czech Republic is expelling 18 Russian diplomats over suspicions that Russian intelligence services were involved in an ammunition explosion in 2014, Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Foreign Minister Jan Hamacek said earlier on Saturday.
He added that President Milos Zeman, who is known for his pro-Russian views, has been informed about the development and has “expressed absolute support for us.”
Hamacek said the staff identified as secret service personnel would be ordered to leave the Czech Republic within 48 hours.
Separately, Czech police said on Saturday they were searching for two men carrying various passports, including Russian ones in the names of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov.
Those names were the aliases used by two Russian military intelligence officers who British prosecutors charged with the attempted murder on British soil of Russian spy Sergei Skripal.
Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with a nerve agent in the English city of Salisbury in March 2018.
The case was likely to significantly harm Czech-Russian relations. “We’re in a similar situation to Britain in the attempted poisoning case in Salisbury,” added Hamacek.
Following Babis’s announcement, the U.S. Embassy in Prague tweeted that “the United States 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.”