Russia will have until the end of May to withdraw its embassy's employees to reduce their numbers to the same level as those of the Czech embassy in Moscow, Czech Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek said, escalating diplomatic row with Moscow.
The Czech Republic has ordered more Russian diplomats to leave the country, further escalating a fierce tug-of-war between the two nations over the alleged involvement of Russian spies in a massive ammunition depot explosion in 2014.
Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek said Russia won't be allowed to have more diplomats in Prague than the Czechs currently have at their embassy in Moscow. All others have to leave by the end of May, he said.
The announcement came after Russia expelled 20 Czech diplomats on Sunday in retaliation for the Czech government’s expulsion of 18 Russian diplomats it identified as spies from the GRU and the SVR, Russia’s military and foreign intelligence services.
The Czech government protested what they called Russia’s “inappropriate reaction,” saying it paralyzed the Czech Embassy in Moscow.
Kulhanek had given the Russian government a Thursday noon deadline to allow the return of the 20 Czech diplomats. He warned that if the demand was not met, he would reduce the staff of the Russian Embassy in Prague to equal the number of staff members remaining at the Czech Embassy.
The minister said Russia did not give an official response.
The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned the Czech ambassador to the come to the ministry on Thursday, spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
“This kind of tone is unacceptable while talking to Russia,” Zakharova said.
Slovakia expels three Russian embassy staff
Slovakia also expelled three Russian diplomats on Thursday and gave them a week to leave the country, Prime Minister Eduard Heger said in a televised briefing.
He said Slovakia acted in solidarity with the Czech Republic which has ordered most Russian staff to leave after accusing Russian intelligence officers of being behind a 2014 explosion at an ammunition depot.