The Czech Republic blamed the same Russian agents accused of poisoning former spy Sergei Skripal in the UK for a deadly 2014 blast that has done the worst damage to Prague-Moscow ties since the fall of communism.
After both sides expelled a record number of diplomats, the Czechs are pondering a further response after Russia left just a skeleton staff at the Czech embassy in Moscow.
With global concern growing about Russia’s military buildup on the border with Ukraine and treatment of jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis held back from escalating the dispute.
He said the alleged involvement of Russia’s GRU intelligence service in the blast, wasn’t an act of “state terrorism.” The explosion killed two people, forced the evacuation of hundreds more from surrounding villages and caused tens of millions of dollars in damage in a Nato and European Union member.
“It wasn’t an attack by Russia against the Czech Republic,” Babis told a news conference. “But it is unacceptable for us that GRU agents have been carrying out this operation here and even more they botched it.”
Chief Prosecutor Pavel Zeman confirmed that the two suspects used the identities of Alexander Petrov and Russian Boshirov when they traveled within the Czech Republic for about a week in October 2014. They’re the same men the UK identified as alleged operatives behind the failed assassination attempt by poisoning of former agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury four years later.
Czech authorities suspect them of trying to destroy export-bound munitions belonging to a Bulgarian arms dealer and believe the shipment was meant to explode after it left the country.
The weapons merchant, Emilian Gebrev, later survived a poisoning attack in Bulgaria that police there said was linked to the Skripal case.