Russia has announced that 20 diplomats from the Czech Republic will be expelled from the country. The Czech Republic expelled 18 Russian diplomats on Saturday.
Czech local intelligence agents say the diplomats are Russian intelligence operatives. They are suspected of being involved in an explosion at a weapons depot in 2014 that killed two people.
The European Union’s foreign ministers are ready to discuss the accusation during a meeting on Monday.
Moscow has given Czech diplomats one day to leave, while the Czech Republic has given Russians 72 hours.
The Russian Foreign Ministry called the Czech decision “unprecedented” and a “hostile act”.
“In their desire to please the United States in the context of the recent US sanctions against Russia, the Czech authorities in this regard even surpassed their masters across the pond,” said a statement from the Foreign Ministry.
Czech authorities say the diplomats are believed to be intelligence agents, accusations the Russians have called unfounded and absurd.
The explosion destroyed an ammunition storage depot in a forest in Vrbětice, Czech Republic, on October 16, 2014.
The windows of nearby buildings blew out and local schools were evacuated as emergency vehicles rushed to the scene. The remains of two men, aged 56 and 69, who worked at the site were found more than a month later.
The explosion was assumed to be an accident.
But the meticulous detective work of the Czech authorities has pointed the finger at Moscow and Unit 29155 of the Russian intelligence agency GRU.
Czech police have identified two suspects in connection with the blast, Alexander Mishkin and Anatoly Chepigov, who is also accused of participating in the 2018 Salisbury poisonings.
Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double agent, and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in the English city, while a local woman, Dawn Sturgess, was killed months later by Novichok from a discarded perfume bottle.
Czech police compared the images of the suspects in the blast with those of the two accused by Britain of the Salisbury poisoning.
The clue came from passport photos sent in an email to Imex Group, the company that operated the warehouse.
The email claimed to come from the Tajikistan National Guard. He requested that two men be given access to the site for an inspection visit. Scans of their passports were attached. The men were said to be Ruslan Tabarov from Tajikistan and Nicolaj Popa, a Moldovan national.
The passport photos match those of the two men charged by Britain with the Salisbury poisoning.
The explosion took place on the 16th and that day the couple headed to Austria to fly from Vienna airport to Moscow. Authorities do not appear to know exactly how the depot was blown up.
The US State Department said it supported the Czech Republic in its “firm response against Russia’s subversive actions on Czech soil.”
Earlier this week, the US expelled 10 Russian diplomats and imposed sanctions in response to the “SolarWinds” attack last year, intimidating Ukraine and interfering in the 2020 US elections.