Salisbury poisoning suspects wanted over deadly Czech explosion condemned as ‘war-like act’

An explosion at an ammunition depot in the Czech Republic – allegedly carried out by two suspects in the Salisbury spy poisonings – has been described as a “war-like act” that demands a harsh response.

Tom Tugendhat, chair of the foreign affairs select committee, told Sky News the 2014 blast that left two workers at the facility dead was a “direct attack on a NATO country”.

“I think we need to be dealing with Russia in the way that it deals with the rest of the world – which is harshly,” he said, suggesting expelling ambassadors as well as diplomats.

The Czech Republic is already expelling 18 Russian diplomats after revealing on Saturday that it suspects Russia’s intelligence services over the attack at the Vrbetice site, which was initially thought to have been an accident.

The Kremlin has denied involvement – calling the allegation unfounded, far-fetched and absurd. It has vowed to retaliate.

The TASS news agency said on Sunday that Moscow has summoned the Czech ambassador to Russia over the expulsions.

And later, in what appears to be a tit-for-tat move, Russia expelled 20 Czech diplomats, insisting they must leave by 19 April, the foreign ministry was reported as saying.

European Union foreign ministers will discuss the crisis at a pre-planned virtual meeting on Monday.

The UK fully supports the Czech Republic, Dominic Raab said.

The foreign secretary said the Czech authorities “have exposed the lengths that the Russian intelligence services will go to in their attempts to conduct dangerous and malign operations in Europe”.

He added: “Russia must desist from these actions, which violate the most basic international norms.”

Czech police said they are hunting two alleged Russian military intelligence officers in connection with the 16 October 2014 blast.

The suspects are believed to have travelled into the Czech Republic on passports with the aliases Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov.

The UK said they are the same GRU officers – whose true identities are thought to be Anatoly Chepiga and Alexander Mishkin – accused of trying to kill former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with a novichok nerve agent. That attack took place in the Wiltshire city of Salisbury three-and-a-half years later, in March 2018.

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Czech police have revealed that they arrived in Prague on 11 October before travelling to the region where the arms depot is located.

They left the Czech Republic on 16 October, the same day as the attack.

Six months after the depot bombing, Mr Gebrev, the arms dealer, was admitted into hospital after collapsing in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia. His son and one of this company’s executives also fell sick.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said there was “well-grounded suspicion” about the involvement of officers of the Russian intelligence service GRU in the ammunitions depot explosion.

A diplomatic source cited by Russian news agency Interfax suggested the expulsions could prompt Russia to shut the Czech Republic’s embassy in Moscow.

In the wake of the Salisbury attack, British police published a detailed photographic account of the two suspects’ movements while in the UK.

An Interpol “red notice” and a European warrant have been issued for their arrest should they try to leave Russia.

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