Two Russian diplomats boarded an Aeroflot flight from Prague to Moscow on the evening of June 7, having both been declared persona non grata in the Czech Republic.
The two diplomats had on June 5 been given 48 hours to leave the country, after they had been accused of supplying the Czech intelligence service, BIS, with false information about a planned attack on three Czech politicians.
The Czech government claims that infighting between Russian embassy staff resulted in one of them sending details of the fictitious plot to Czech intelligence.
In response, the three politicians – including the mayor of Prague, Zdeněk Hřib – were placed under police protection.
Russia condemned the expulsions as an “unfriendly act”.
“These expulsions deal a serious blow to relations and will receive an adequate response,” Russia’s foreign ministry warned in a statement.
The head of Russian civil intelligence, Sergei Naryshkin, went so far as to call the expulsion of the diplomats a “vile provocation”.
Details of the apparent plot first emerged in a Czech news weekly, Respekt, which reported that a Russian agent had travelled to Prague with a suitcase containing the highly potent toxin, ricin.
It claimed that the poison might be used to target Czech politicians who had angered Russia. Mr Hřib, who earlier this year backed a decision to change the name of the square outside the Russian embassy to that of a murdered Russian opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, was said to be “top of the list”. The two other politicians allegedly targeted were mayors of Prague districts in which two statues honouring the Soviet army have been removed.
At the time the ricin plot first emerged, Russia condemned the reports as “misinformation” and “sick fantasies”.
Czech TV then named the man involved as Andrei Konchakov, head of the Russian Centre for Science and Culture in Prague, and he rubbished the story saying he had merely brought “disinfectant and sweets” in his suitcase, not ricin.
However, Mr Konchakov is reportedly one of the Russian diplomats who has been expelled. The other is his deputy, Igor Rybakov. Mikhail Bryukhanov, the head of the Russian foreign ministry’s international cooperation agency Rossotrudnichestvo, which operates the Russian Centre for Science and Culture in Prague, has confirmed that the two expelled diplomats were his employees.
While Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš now appears to have exonerated Russia from actually planning to carry out a plot to murder the three politicians, saying that “this whole affair was initiated as a consequence of an internal fight between employees of the Russian Embassy in Prague,” the expulsion of the diplomats is likely to further aggravate already frayed relations between the two countries.
The country’s foreign ministers have not officially met since 2005.
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