Russia expels two Czech diplomats in tit-for-tat move

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia declared two Czech diplomats persona non grata on Monday in what it said was a response to an unfriendly move by Prague earlier this month to expel two of Russia’s diplomatic staff.

Russia’s foreign ministry said it had summoned the Czech ambassador and told the envoy that the diplomats had by the end of Wednesday to leave the country.

Ties between Moscow and Prague have been strained over disputes about a statue and the renaming of a Czech square as well as reports of a Russian man arriving in Prague and posing a threat to three Czech politicians.

On June 5, Prague expelled two Russian embassy staff members after what Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis called infighting among embassy personnel that led to false allegations about a planned Russian assault on the Czech politicians.

The politicians, who included the mayor of Prague, were given police protection.

The Russian Embassy in Prague denounced the decision announced by Babis at the time as a “fabricated provocation”.

In a statement on Monday, the Russian foreign ministry accused Prague of deliberately trying to escalate tensions with Moscow.

Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy; Writing by Tom Balmforth and Alexander Marrow; Editing by Peter Graff