Czechia, in Line with EU, Prepares Retaliatory Actions over Russian Novichok Allegations
As the diplomatic fallout from a suspicious nerve gas poisoning, on British soil, of a UK spy who was a Russian national, continues to reverberate throughout Europe and beyond, the Czech Republic has announced its intent to expel a number of Russian diplomats. This decision by Prague comes as leaders of the European Union (EU) member-states debated a unified policy in retaliation for the poisoning — which the United Kingdom has accused Russia of carrying out — and follows London’s expulsion of Russian diplomats on Mar. 20, 2018.
In the immediate aftermath of the Mar. 4 poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, British police mobilized counter-terrorism units and hazardous materials crews to the scene after determining the poison was a potent nerve agent. On Mar. 14, British Prime Minister Theresa May announced the implementation of a battery of sanctions against Moscow after the British government concluded that the Skripals were poisoned by a “Novichok agent” — a type military-grade nerve agent originating from the former Soviet Union —most likely under orders of the Russian government.
The Russian government, on the other hand, has categorically denied any involvement with the poisoning incident. While Moscow has vacillated between several theories on its own culpability (or lack thereof) regarding the incident. Their excuses have ranged from flat-out denial of possession of any Soviet-era chemical weapons to accusing London of conducting a “false flag” operation. Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, stated that “the most likely source of origin of the toxin are the countries which have been carrying out intense research on the substances from the ‘Novichok’ program, approximately since the end of the 1990s until the present time, and this project is not the creation of Russia or the Soviet Union.”
The spokeswoman, in the same statement on Mar. 17, then listed the United Kingdom, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Sweden, and the United States as some of the countries in question.
The following day, two ministers from Prague rejected the Russian allegation of being the origin of the nerve agent. The Czech foreign minister, Martin Stropnicky, condemned the Russian allegation as “an example of how information could be manipulated,” while the Czech defense minister, Karla Slechtova, noted that Prague was a longstanding signatory of international agreements forbidding the use of nerve gases.
A group of senators from the upper house of the Parliament of the Czech Republic, including the President of the Senate, Milan Stech, urged the full Czech government to categorically deny the Russian claim on Mar. 19. While Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis initially deferred any action, instead stressing the “need for coordinated EU action in this respect,” Babis issued a statement at the end of an European Union roundtable on Mar. 23 stating that Prague would follow London in expelling Russian diplomats in response to the Russian Foreign Ministry’s “blatant lie.”
Ten other European Union member-states — Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, and Poland — are believed to be preparing to oust Russian diplomats from their soil by next week, in solidarity with the United Kingdom. Sweden and Slovakia have joined the Czech Republic in denying the Russian allegation and have summoned the Russian ambassadors in Stockholm and Bratislava, respectively, over the “unacceptable and unfounded” claim.