Czechia expels Russian diplomats over 2014 ammunition depot blast

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The suspects of the 2018 novichok nerve agent poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, England, have been linked to a 2014 blast in the Czech Republic that killed two people.

Separately on Saturday, Czech police said they were searching for two men carrying various passports, including Russian ones in the names of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov.

Czech officials say these individuals are connected to two fatal explosions at military ammunition depots in Vrbetice in 2014.

A Russian lawmaker cited by the Interfax news agency called the allegation absurd.

The Czech Republic simultaneously expelled 18 Russian diplomats believed to be secret intelligence agents.

Interior Minister Jan Hamacek, who is also serving as the country's foreign minister, said the 18 Russian embassy staffers were clearly identified as spies from the Russian intelligence services known as GRU and SVR and were ordered to leave the country within 48 hours.

Mr Babis said: "There is well-grounded suspicion about the involvement of officers of the Russian intelligence service the explosion of ammunitions depot in the Vrbetice area".

The explosion, which took place on October 16, 2014 in a depot in the town of Vrbetice where 50 metric tons of ammunition was stored, claimed two victims.

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These are the same names used by two Russian intelligence officers the United Kingdom says carried out the poisoning in Salisbury, Wiltshire in 2018.

After Salisbury, the two men were identified as Alexander Mishkin and Anatoliy Chepiga and subsequently appeared on Russian TV to claim they were sports nutritionists who had visited Salisbury to see the cathedral spire.

A local woman, Dawn Sturgress, died months later after being poisoned by nerve agent in a discarded perfume bottle.

"We're in a similar situation like Britain in the attempted poisoning case in Salisbury in 2018", Hamacek said, without elaborating.

Russian Federation responded by saying that its constitution does not allow its citizens to be extradited.

They said they were in the Czech Republic from 11 to 16 October 2014, "first in Prague, then in the Moravian-Silesian Region and the Zlin Region".

The expulsion of the Russian diplomats comes just days after Poland said it had kicked out three Russian diplomats for "activities detrimental" to the country, and the USA expelled 10 Russian diplomats over the Kremlin's alleged election interference and hacking of federal agencies. Moscow followed by saying 10 USA diplomats would also have to leave.

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