The Czech Republic has expelled two Russian diplomats from the country in the wake of the alleged poisoning scandal that saw three Prague mayors placed under police protection, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (YES) and Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček announced at a press conference this afternoon.
But there was no plot to poison the mayors of Prague. According to Babiš, the entire case was made up, and the result of intentionally misleading information passed from the Russian Embassy in Prague to the Czech Security Information Service (BIS).
“The information and evidence I received from the Security Information Service clearly shows that the whole case arose as a result of an internal struggle between the staff of the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Prague, when one of them targeted our security information service,” Babiš stated.
“In addition to the unnecessary workload placed on our security forces, it also caused complications in Czech-Russian relations and damage to the good name of the Russian Federation in the Czech Republic.”
“We are a sovereign state and such actions on our territory are not acceptable. Two employees of the Russian Embassy have been declared persona non grata.”
Petříček added that the Czech Republic attempted to deal with the matter discretely, but was ultimately left with no other option than expelling the diplomats responsible.
While Babiš refused to go into specific details, it can be inferred from his comments that the Russian diplomats invented the poisoning story and fed it to Czech security forces following internal disputes within the Russian Embassy in Prague.
In April, Respekt magazine broke the story of a Russian diplomat who had allegedly come to the Czech Republic carrying the poison ricin.
Three mayors of Prague – Zdeněk Hřib (Pirates), Prague 6 District Mayor Ondřej Kolář (TOP 09), and Prague-Řeporyje Mayor Pavel Novotný (Civic Democrats, ODS) – had recently been placed under police protection. Kolář later confirmed that it was directly related to the alleged poisoning plot.
According to Lidovky.cz, the BIS filed a criminal complaint about a leak of secret information about the Russian intelligence agent. While the source of the leak to media has not been made public, inferences could be made given today’s information about the story being invented.
Relations between the Czech Republic and Russia have become increasingly strained over recent months.
Prague 6 stirred emotions following its removal of a memorial to Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev in April. Shortly after, Prague City Hall renamed the square where the Russian embassy is seated after Russian politician Boris Nemtsov, an opponent of Vladimir Putin who was assassinated in Moscow in 2015.
It’s unclear what effect today’s announcement will have on Czech-Russian relations. While it’s encouraging that the poisoning scandal was likely a hoax and the matter has been largely resolved, the expulsion of Russian diplomats from the Czech Republic is an extraordinary step.