Cold War Games: Europe Awakes to Russian Covert Action Threat

Written by | Wednesday, April 21st, 2021

The Czech government has downplayed the significance of Russia’s lethal attack on a Czech weapons depot in October and December 2014, but further retaliatory measures, including at EU level, could follow. “It was not an act of state terrorism. [Russian] agents attacked the goods of a Bulgarian arms dealer, who probably sold them to parties fighting against Russia. The ammunition was to explode along the way [to the warehouse],” Czech prime minister Andrej Babiš said on TV on Monday (19 April). The Czech government also said that Russia’s eviction of 20 Czech embassy employees – which has rendered the Czech embassy in Moscow largely dysfunctional – in response to Prague’s expulsion of 18 Russian staff on Saturday – in an unprecedented move in modern Czech history – was a stronger than expected reaction and the government would consider further steps.
It took seven years to expose that Russia was behind the explosion of an ammunition deposit in 2014 that killed two people in the Czech Republic, and for Bulgaria to realise that the attempted Novichok poisoning of an arms trader was linked to this covert action. The Russian agents responsible for the explosion are allegedly the same two people who tried to poison with the military-grade substance Novichok the former GRU officer Sergej Skripal in Salisbury in 2018. Moscow has denied any of its agents were involved in the blast, which killed two people, branding the Czech stance a provocation. The row is the biggest between Prague and Moscow since the end of Soviet domination of eastern Europe in 1989. Czech interior minister and acting foreign minister Jan Hamá?ek brought the matter before the EU foreign affairs minister’s council on Monday, asking his counterparts for “solidarity”, while the country’s prime minister intends to discuss the incident at the next European Council summit.
Meanwhile, Poland fully supported Czech Republic’s decision to expel Russian diplomats, the country’s foreign ministry has said. “Allied solidarity and quick action make us strong. Poland fully supports the decisions on the expulsion of the Russian diplomats involved in the explosion in the ammunition depot in 2014”, the ministry has tweeted on Sunday (18 April) Only two days earlier, Russia expelled five Polish diplomats in retaliation for the Polish foreign ministry announcing that three Russians from Moscow’s Warsaw embassy were to be expelled in relation to Russian cyberattacks carried out against the United States. “The effects of these attacks reach beyond the US and affect European states, among others”, the statement of the Polish foreign ministry wrote.

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