*

upload_article_image

Czechs expel 18 Russians over huge depot explosion in 2014

The Czech Republic announced Saturday that it was expelling 18 Russian diplomats who it has identified as spies in a case related to a huge ammunition depot explosion in 2014.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis said the move is based on “unequivocal evidence" provided by the Czech intelligence and security services that points to the involvement of Russian military agents in the massive explosion in an eastern town that killed “two innocent fathers."

“The Czech Republic is a sovereign state and must adequately react to those unprecedented findings," Babis said.

Interior Minister Jan Hamacek, who is also serving as the country's foreign minister, said the 18 Russian embassy staffers were clearly identified as Russian military spies and were ordered to leave the country within 48 hours.

The explosion took place on Oct. 16, 2014, in a depot in the town of Vrbetice that had 50 metric tons of ammunition stored, which claimed the two victims. Another explosion of 13 tons of ammunition occurred in the depot on Dec. 3 of that same year.

Babis said President Milos Zeman, who is known for his pro-Russian views, has been informed about the development and has “expressed absolute support for us.”

He said the investigation into the case has not yet been completed but thanked the country's security forces for their “professional job."

Hamacek said the the case will significantly harm Czech-Russian relations.

“We’re in a similar situation like Britain in the attempted poisoning case in Salisbury in 2018,” Hamacek said.

In that case, Britain expelled dozens of Russian diplomats after Russian agents used a Soviet-era nerve agent to poison a former Russian spy and his daughter who were living in the English city of Salisbury.