Brussels: The European Union has expressed concerns over Russia’s decision to declare 20 Czech diplomats “persona non grata” in response to the expulsion of 18 Russian diplomats from the Czech Republic.
“The European Union stands in full support and solidarity with the Czech Republic and deplores Russia’s response to expel 20 Czech diplomats,” an EU Commission spokesperson said in a Monday statement, adding that “Russia must stop with these activities, which violates well-established international principles and norms and threaten stability in Europe.”
On Saturday, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Hamacek announced the expulsion of 18 Russian diplomats on suspicion of being officers of Russia’s special services. They were obliged to leave the country within 48 hours. Prime Minister Andrej Babis explained that the move was prompted by “a reasonable suspicion” that Russian military intelligence officers had something to do with the October 2014 blasts at an ammunition depot in the town of Vrbetice that killed two Czech nationals.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Sunday that the claims were groundless and absurd particularly taking into account the fact that the Czech government earlier blamed the blasts on companies that owned the warehouses.
Also on Sunday, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced its decision to expel 20 Czech diplomats in response to the expulsion of Russian diplomats from Prague and gave the Czech diplomatic staff time until the end of Monday to leave Russia.
According to Czech Television, the 20 embassy employees declared “persona non grata,” as well as their family members, arrived in Prague late on Monday.
Earlier on Monday, EU foreign ministers discussed the 2014 explosion at the ammunition depot in Vrbetice and reaffirmed their readiness to “show solidarity” with Prague, according to German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.