PRAGUE – The Czech Republic announced Saturday that it was expelling 18 Russian diplomats who it has identified as spies in a case related to a huge ammunition depot explosion in 2014.
Prime Minister Andrej Babis said the move is based on “unequivocal evidence" provided by the Czech intelligence and security services that points to the involvement of Russian military agents in the massive explosion in an eastern town that killed “two innocent fathers."
“The Czech Republic is a sovereign state and must adequately react to those unprecedented findings," Babis said.
Interior Minister Jan Hamacek, who is also serving as the country's foreign minister, said the 18 Russian embassy staffers were clearly identified as spies from the Russian intelligence services known as GRU and SVR and were ordered to leave the country within 48 hours.
The explosion, which took place on Oct. 16, 2014 in a depot in the town of Vrbetice where 50 metric tons of ammunition was stored, claimed two victims. Another explosion of 13 tons of ammunition occurred in the depot on Dec. 3 of that same year.
Hundreds had to be evacuated from nearby villages after those explosions.
“The United States stands with its steadfast ally, the Czech Republic,” Jennifer Bachus, chargé d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Prague, said. “We appreciate their significant action to impose costs on Russia for its dangerous actions on Czech soil.”
The Czech announcement came two days after the U.S. 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.