Prague Airport: On Monday, expelled Russian diplomats and their relatives were flown out of the Czech Republic on a special flight
Photo: Petr David Josek / AP
The diplomatic conflict between the Czech Republic and Russia is getting worse.
After an ultimatum to Russia had expired, the Czech Republic effectively decided to expel up to 70 Russian diplomats and embassy staff.
Czech Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek gave the Kremlin until the end of May to reduce the size of its representation in Prague to the level of the Czech embassy in Moscow.
The Czech Republic currently has only 24 embassy staff in Moscow, including five diplomats.
However, Russia has 94 embassy employees in Prague, including 27 diplomats.
The background to the dispute are explosions in an ammunition dump in Vrbětice in eastern Czech Republic in 2014, for which Prague most recently blamed Russian secret services.
In response, the Czech Republic expelled 18 Russian diplomats from the country last week.
Moscow countered - and expelled 20 Czech diplomats.
Kulhanek had described this as "disproportionate".
The expulsion of 20 diplomats completely paralyzes the work of the Czech embassy, while the expulsion of 18 Russian diplomats does not endanger the work of the Russian embassy.
"Prague has embarked on the path of destroying relations"
Maria Sakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow immediately announced countermeasures - but left it open which they would be.
"Prague has embarked on the path of destroying relations, the answer will not be long in coming," said spokeswoman Maria Sakharova, according to the Interfax agency.
Prague had previously unsuccessfully asked the Kremlin to allow all Czech diplomats expelled a few days ago to return to the Moscow embassy by Thursday noon.
The representation is barely able to work.
"The Czech Republic is a self-confident country and behaves accordingly," said Kulhanek.
The 36-year-old has only been the chief diplomat of the NATO and EU member states since Wednesday.
Slovakia expels Russian diplomats out of solidarity
Out of solidarity with the Czech Republic, neighboring Slovakia has expelled three Russian diplomats.
You have seven days to leave the country, said Prime Minister Eduard Heger, according to the TASR agency.
Previously, NATO had already assured the country of its support.
"The allies express their deep concern about the destabilizing measures that Russia continues to implement in the Euro-Atlantic area (...)," said a statement from the NATO states.
We stand by the side of the Czech Republic in full solidarity.
fek / dpa / AFP