Russia expels seven Slovak, Lithuanian and Estonian diplomats
Russia expels a total of seven diplomats from Slovakia and the Baltic States. The Russian Foreign Ministry said that three employees of the Slovak Embassy in Moscow, two employees of the Lithuanian Embassy and one each from the embassies of Latvia and Estonia were declared persona non grata.
The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned the ambassadors of these countries. They were given "letters of protest in connection with provocative, unreasonable decisions" to expel employees of Russian diplomatic missions. The Baltic states "continue to pursue an openly hostile course against our country" and Slovakia's decision to "show false solidarity with the Czech Republic" "damages traditionally friendly Russian-Slovak relations," said the Russian Foreign Ministry.
A few days ago, Slovakia and the Baltic states announced the expulsion of Russian diplomats in solidarity with the Czech Republic in a diplomatic conflict with Russia. Three Russian diplomats in Slovakia were declared persona non grata. The three Baltic States also announced the expulsion of Russian diplomats accusing them of activities incompatible with their diplomatic status. Latvia and Estonia expelled one diplomat each and Lithuania two.
On April 17, Czech authorities said that Russian citizens were involved in the 2014 explosions at a military warehouse in the village of Vrbetice, which destroyed about 150 tons of ammunition. The warehouses were rented by private firm Imex Group. According to Czech media, the ammunition was planned to be sent to the company of the Bulgarian businessman, Emilian Gebrev, who allegedly supplied weapons to Ukraine, Syria and other countries.
Russia called the accusations of organizing the bombings in Vrbetica groundless. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the accusations were "absurd and savage because they are brought without evidence." For his part, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis called the bombings an "unprecedented terrorist act."
In protest, the Czech Republic expelled 18 Russian diplomats from the country, while Russia responded by expelling 20 Czech diplomats. On April 2, Czech Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek announced the impending expulsion of several dozen Russian diplomats from the country. The number of the Russian Embassy in Prague should be reduced to the size of the Czech diplomatic mission in Moscow by the end of May, he said.
The Czech Embassy in Moscow currently has 24 staff members: five diplomats and 19 administrative staff, while the Russian Embassy in Prague has 27 diplomats and 67 administrative staff. The measures announced by Kulhanek mean that the staff of the Russian diplomatic mission should actually be reduced by about 70 people.