Prague Expels 18 Russian Diplomats over Involvement in 2014 Ammunition Depot Explosion

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  • 08:38 AM, April 19, 2021
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Prague Expels 18 Russian Diplomats over Involvement in 2014 Ammunition Depot Explosion
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš

The Czech Republic has expelled 18 Russian diplomats after an investigation linked their involvement to a 2014 ammunition depot explosion and will discuss the matter at an upcoming NATO summit on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš announced that there was a reasonable suspicion of the involvement of Russian secret service GRU officers in the explosions of ammunition depots in Vrbětice. They are accused of working for the Russian special services, reported Saturday.

“There is well-grounded suspicion about the involvement of officers of the Russian intelligence service GRU, unit 29155, in the explosion of ammunitions depot in the Vrbetice area,” Babis said.

Several explosions shook the Vrbetice ammunition depot, 330km southeast of the capital, Prague, on October 16, 2014. The explosions killed employees of a private company that was renting the depot from a state military organisation.

Meanwhile, Jakub Landovsky, the Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic to NATO, said on Sunday that the republic would discuss the 2014 blast at the ammunition depot in the village of Vrbetice at the upcoming session of the North Atlantic Council on April 20.

The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed a resolute protest over the expulsion of the employees taken "under invented and ungrounded pretexts" and vowed response measures would follow. Twenty employees of the Czech embassy in Moscow were declared personae non gratae in response.

According to Czech law enforcement officials, GRU officers Alexander Mishkin and Anatoly Chepiga, arrived in Prague on October 13, 2014 and left for Russia via Austria on October 16. They used passports with the fictitious names of Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov, which they later used to travel to Salisbury.

The official purpose of their trip was to visit an ammunition depot in Vrbetice, where they had booked spots in advance. Anyone wishing to visit the site for business reasons must send an email to the site’s administrators, and if the request is made by foreigners, they must also provide copies of their passports. The documents that Chepiga and Mishkin sent to Vrbetice differed from those which they used to enter the Czech Republic. This time they used passports issued in the name of Ruslan Tabarov and Nikolai Pop respectively. During Chepiga and Mishkin's visit, Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev purchased weapons from the Czech warehouse which were supposed to be exported to Ukraine. Gebrev was allegedly poisoned by GRU six months later, several reports said citing Czech police.

The two are also accused of poisoning a Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in March 2018.  They and Moscow both denied involvement.

In April 2015, there were also explosions at an arms depot in Iganovo in Bulgaria. They were reportedly committed by the same unit of the GRU. A total of 8 staff members of the GRU unit visited Bulgaria at the end of 2014 and early 2015.

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