Czech Republic expels 18 Russian Embassy staff over 2014 blast

Image Reuters The national flag flutters on top of the Russian embassy in Prague Czech Republic

At the same time, Czech police announced they were searching for two Russian men in connection with the explosion, claiming the duo had used passports with the same names as the passports used by suspects in the attempted 2018 poisoning in Britain of former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal.

Speaking about the latest developments in the Czech Republic, Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: "The UK stands in full support of our Czech allies, who have exposed the lengths that the Russian intelligence services will go to in their attempts to conduct unsafe and malign operations in Europe".

The Czech Republic has expelled 18 Russian diplomats in retaliation.

The explosion happened on 16 October at a depot in the town of Vrbetice where 50 tonnes of ammunition was being stored.

The Czech weekly Respekt reported the two Russian agents, named as Anatoly Chepig and Alexander Mishkin, were in the Czech Republic and probably on the site of the ammunition depot in October 2014 when the deadly blast took place. "We appreciate their significant action to impose costs on Russian Federation for its risky actions on Czech soil".

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.

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Warsaw also expressed solidarity with the United States, which earlier that day had announced sanctions and the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats in retaliation for what Washington said was the Kremlin's U.S. election interference, a massive cyber attack and other hostile activity.

Police added that the men are known to be carrying various passports, including Russian passports with Petrov and Boshirov's names.

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

The crisis has already had a wider impact of Czech-Russian relations.

"We are as determined and committed as ever to bring those responsible for the attack in Salisbury to justice, and commend the actions of the Czech authorities to do the same".

In response to the Czech decision, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova was quoted as saying on Saturday by TASS news agency that "Prague is well aware what follows such "tricks". The men are wanted for their potential role in the 2014 explosion, the organised crime squad (NCOZ) said on its website. They were first in Prague and later in the eastern regions, which is where the depot is based.

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