Czech Republic expels 18 Russian embassy staff

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The Czech announcement came two days after the US said it was expelling 10 Russian diplomats and imposing sanctions against several dozen people and companies, holding the Kremlin accountable for interference in last year's presidential election and the hacking of federal agencies.

The dramatic accusations have nearly instantly threatened to destabilize the relationship between Russian Federation and the Czech Republic, which broke away from the Soviet Union in 1989.

These "unprecedented findings" point to the involvement of Russian military agents in the explosion that killed "two innocent fathers", Babis said.

The 18 expelled Russian embassy personnel had been identified by Czech intelligence as members of Russia's GRU and SVR intelligence services.

The Czech Republic is expelling 18 Russian diplomats over suspicions that Russian intelligence services were involved in an ammunition explosion in 2014, Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Foreign Minister Jan Hamacek said on Saturday. He added that the country's president, Miloš Zeman, who is close to the Kremlin, had been informed of the situation and had expressed his "absolute support".

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Those names were the aliases used by two Russian military intelligence officers who British prosecutors charged with the attempted murder on British soil of Russian spy Sergei Skripal. He said the country's allies in North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the European Union have been informed about the findings and "we've asked for their support".

The US said it was expelling 10 diplomats from the Russian Embassy in Washington DC on Thursday in response to a cyber-attack as well as other Russian activities.

The case was likely to significantly harm Czech-Russian relations.

Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were poisoned with a nerve agent in the English city of Salisbury in March 2018. Hamáček said he had cancelled a trip to Moscow to negotiate the purchase of the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine for use once the European Medicines Agency has signed off.

Czech Industry Minister Karel Havlicek, meanwhile, told Reuters that the row with Moscow could influence a decision on whether Russian Federation is invited to bid on building a new unit at the Dukovany nuclear power plant.

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